Enbridge oil tankers too risky: concerned engineers

A group of professional engineers who say Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal is three times riskier than the company states is trying to raise $20,000 to ensure their alternative analysis reaches a broader audience.

Brian Gunn, who was the project engineer for the development of the Roberts Bank super port coal terminal in Delta, says he and a group of other professional engineers believe the risk posed by Enbridge’s oil tankers is too high.

“We’ve been heavily involved in resource extraction and transportation of resources,” Gunn said. “Our main effort is to see that these [projects] are done safely. We’re not opposed to … oil, tarsands, pipelines, whatever. We’re opposed to doing it in an unsafe manner. And, in our view, Northern Gateway is not a safe project.”

The engineers studied the risks inherent in Enbridge’s proposed pipeline and oil tanker project. After reviewing Enbridge’s marine shipping risk analysis report, they decided to prepare their own risk analysis

The engineers reached three broad conclusions. First, they found that Enbridge understated the risks of a tanker spill by a factor of three. While Enbridge’s report said there’s a nine per cent chance of a major oil spill occurring during the project’s 50-year operating life, Gunn’s group found the probability is closer to 23 per cent.

“You could ask somebody from Enbridge if they’re prepared to get on an airplane in that 50-year period when they know there’s a 23 per cent chance they are going to die,” Gunn said.

Even using Enbridge’s risk assessment, the project is too risky compared to other major civil projects, typically required to be 20 times safer than Enbridge’s estimate, Gunn argues.

“We’re concerned that it’s the wrong place and the wrong environment and the risks are far too high,” Gunn said. “Is a nine per cent chance of a major spill something that society should accept?”

Secondly, the engineers concluded it is uncertain whether diluted bitumen, the product Enbridge proposes to transport, will stay afloat long enough to be cleaned up in the event of a tanker spill. 

“When the spill occurs, the environment will have to live with it,” said Gunn, who is one of the founders of the B.C. Wilderness Tourism Association. “It will not be cleaned up. They will spend a lot of money trying and hopefully they will clean some of it up, but statistics show that they’re not very successful at doing that.”

Thirdly, the engineers concluded the financial cost of clean-up of a significant oil spill will be borne by the Canadian people, not by Enbridge.

The engineers toured the north coast, visited First Nations and other communities.

“We came back more convinced than ever that we had to do something,” Gunn said.

They enlisted the help of C.J. Peter Associates Engineering, a mechanical engineering firm in Prince George, B.C., registered as an intervener for the National Energy Board’s hearings on the project. That way, the engineers were able to question Enbridge and its consultants during the hearings.

Now, with the clock ticking down on the review panel’s recommendations — due by the end of this month — Gunn’s group hopes to raise $20,000 through a crowdsourcing campaign to develop a website, video and social media presence in time to influence the Enbridge debate.

“We’re getting close to the quarter point and we’ve got 20 days left to go. We’re going to try to get those arguments up and running before Christmas,” Gunn said. “I think generally people value this province, they value the supernatural image, they value the outdoors and I believe that if they know the risks are as high as they are, they won’t accept that.”

Emma Gilchrist is a reporter, editor, public speaker and spreadsheet-keeper. She started her journalism career more than 15 years ago…

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