The National Energy Board, Canada’s federal pipeline regulator, will now require pipeline operators to make emergency response plans publicly available online, according to an order issued this week.
The new rules require all pipeline companies to post emergency plans on their websites by September 30, 2016. The increased transparency measure is part of a larger effort by the National Energy Board to regain credibility with the Canadian public.
“We’ve always reviewed manuals, we’ve always reviewed companies’ emergency management systems to make sure they’re robust, but Canadians are now saying they want more information and we’re just acting on what Canadians are telling us,” National Energy Board chairman Peter Watson told Global News.
“This is an example where I felt quite strongly that we could put more information out about companies’ emergency response plans and help people understand what’s at play and how these things work. And that will, I think, give them more confidence that we know what we’re doing around these systems for emergency response.”
The issue of pipeline transparency made headlines last summer after operator Kinder Morgan refused to disclose emergency plans for the Trans Mountain pipeline to the province of B.C., even though the company was in the process of applying for a permit to triple the capacity of the pipeline.
As DeSmog Canada first revealed, Kinder Morgan made those same emergency response plans publicly available in Washington State yet claimed they could not be disclosed in Canada for safety reasons.
The province, acting as an intervenor in the NEB review of Kinder Morgan’s expansion plans, was left to wonder if the company did in fact have emergency plans in place.
The plans Kinder Morgan willingly disclosed in Washington State included detailed information about every unique segment of the pipeline, worst case scenario discharge maps, names, contact information and instructions for spill responders, and detailed spill response timelines for each zone of the pipeline.
In a motion to the National Energy Board, B.C. said Kinder Morgan’s secrecy was “excessive, unjustified and prohibitive.” The province argued the withheld emergency response plans thwarted a full review of the project and prevented intervenors from a thorough understanding of the project. The National Energy Board upheld Kinder Morgan's decision to keep the plans secret.
Kinder Morgan’s refusal to release full plan put a spotlight on the lack of transparency surrounding pipeline management in Canada, leading the National Energy Board to rethink disclosure rules.
In April of last year the board announced they were launching a public consultation campaign which concluded in June 2015.
“There may indeed be some specific information that should be kept confidential,” Watson said while announcing the public consultation program in Vancouver last April. “But I believe that we have been too conservative in our approach to this issue to date.”
“And to tell you the truth,” he added, “I haven't been happy with the amount of emergency response information that pipeline companies or the NEB has been sharing with the public.”
The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association also responded to public concerns, saying a number of their members had “faced significant public pressure to disclose all information contained in emergency response plans.”
The new rules allow companies to exclude some information, such as personal details or location of sensitive indigenous site, from disclosure. Information relevant to a potential oil spill and disaster management, however, will be readily available to the public.
Should the Kinder Morgan expansion be approved — a final cabinet decision is expected in December — the disclosure rules will apply retroactively, Watson said.
Adam Scott, with Environmental Defence, told Global: “I don’t think it’s going to solve all of their problems, but I think it’s a really positive step.”
“I think it will be very interesting to see what the companies post.”
Image: Mychaylo Prystupa/Vancouver Observer