Enbridge Northern Gateway Tanker Spill Predicted Every 10 Years, Not 250 Years As Company Claims

According to a new study to be released today the risks associated with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline are significantly higher than presented by the company in its project reporting. The study, conducted by Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management, found that in three categories – tanker transport, marine terminal facilities, and pipelines – oil spill predictions based on an international oil spill model (the US Oil Spill Risk Analysis, OSRA) are vastly greater than those based on Enbridge estimates.

In the category of tanker transport, the analysis predicted British Columbians can expect to see one oil spill every 10 years. Enbridge estimated such spills would only occur once every 250 years.

According to Enbridge, pipeline spills are only expected to occur 25 times over a 50-year span. The new analysis predicts 776 pipeline spills over the same period – 31 times more frequently.

According to the Globe and Mail's Mike Hume, Enbridge "has long maintained that all aspects of the project will be done to the highest safety standards in the world. Last year Enbridge promised to spend an additional $500-million on extra measures to increase the wall thickness of the pipeline, to install dual leak detection systems and to increase the number of remotely operated isolation valves."

But according to Dr. Tom Gunton, director of the School of Resource and Environmental Management at SFU, Enbridge's risk forecast "has been done in a very deficient way." He told the Globe and Mail the federally appointed Joint Review Panel (JRP) is poorly equipped to understand the risks associated with the Northern Gateway project.

"The problem is the panel does not have [complete] evidence before them on the likelihood of an oil spill. And the evidence they do have from Enbridge has serious deficiencies in methodology. So it's impossible for the JRP to make an informed, evidence-based decision," he said.

The Polaris Institute found that Enbridge was responsible for more than 800 spills between 1999 and 2010, with a total of more than 6.8 million gallons of oil released.

From the Polaris Institute report Out on the Tar Sands Mainline, page 53.

That's not including Enbridge's disastrous 2010 pipeline rupture in Michigan that released more than 1 million gallons of tar sands diluted bitumen into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, creating the most expensive onshore oil cleanup in the petroleum industry's history. The price tag for that ongoing cleanup is currently estimated at a whopping $1 billion.

Last fall during a public hearing in Prince George, BC, Enbridge was unable to provide evidence for what the company claims will be its 'world-class' spill prevention and response program for the Northern Gateway. When pressed for details, company officials admitted they will have no land-based spill-prevention plan until six months before the proposed pipeline would being operation.

The pipeline, set to cross more than 770 watercourses, will travel over 1,172 kilometres of land before reaching tidal waters in Kitimat, BC.

At the time of the public hearing, BC Environment Minister Terry Lake said Enbridge's testimony was "long on promises, but short on solid evidence and action to date."

"The company needs to show British Columbians that they have practical solutions to the environmental risks and concerns that have been raised. So far, they have not done that."

Today's study from SFU shows that those risks have yet to be fully explored and clearly require independent, third-party analysis.

Yet, because of the restrictions placed on the JRP's review of the Northern Gateway project, this new research – which casts doubt on Enbridge's ability to provide sound estimates related to the proposed project – will not be considered as evidence in the hearings.

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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