Editorial: Blowing a gasket

Trent Ernst, Editor


Last November, Spectra Energy had an incident up near Gwillim Lake where a sour gas pipeline had a “safety incident.” Fortunately, there was no gas leakage.

Tumbler Ridge dodged the bullet back in 2010, when a similar incident happened on Spectra’s Lower Murray River pipeline, much closer to town.

Both of these incidents were relatively minor, and neither saw any sour gas released.

However, the two are part of an increasing number of pipeline leaks and other safety incidences.

Since the turn of the century, according to the National Energy Board of Canada’s Pipeline Incident Database, there have been 1047 pipeline incidents (ranging from workers injured to major leaks), most of which have happened in the last few years.

By 2011, according to a report published by the CBC, safety-related incidents rose from 45 in 2000 to 142 in 2011.

And these are only the pipelines that are under national jurisdiction. There are far more smaller scale pipelines that are monitored provincially.

There are about 71,000 km of pipelines that are monitored federally.

The rise in safety incidents is due in no small part to the fact that there are far more pipelines now than there were a decade ago.

But also contributing to the rise is the fact that as the pipeline infrastructure ages, it becomes more susceptible to incidents.

While Tumbler Ridge has only seen a pair of pipeline incidents since the turn of the century, that is not the case for the rest of the province. According to the data, British Columbia had the highest number of recorded incidents, with 279 events over the last 12 years.

Tumbler Ridge has been lucky, but our neighbours have not.

Chetwynd, for instance, has seen a number of major leaks. The most famous incident happened in 2000, when approximately 6200 barrels of light crude oil spilled into the Pine River, about 110 km upstream from Chetwynd.

It was one of the most expensive inland spills in history, with Pembina spending over $30 million to clean it up.

About half the oil was recaptured from the river, and another large chunk of it was recaptured in the form of contaminated soil. Still, about 500 barrels of oil were lost and there was a “major fish kill immediately downstream of the spill.”

While it is the best known incident, it is far from the only one.

In April of 2011, 1,300,000,000 litres of Acid gas at the Kwoen re-injection pipeline was leaked into the air.

In 2004, 11,860 litres of glycol overflowed at the Pine River Gas Plant.

In Dawson Creek, they estimate that 12 billion litres of sweet natural gas leaked from the Alberta Mainline from a pair of cracks that were discovered during an inspection but had not been detected by monitoring equipment.

Further north, Fort St. John and Taylor have seen dozens of incidents, ranging from minor with little or no impact on the environment and surrounding area, to 42 billion litres of sour gas escaping when a back-hoe broke the Jedney pipeline back in 2000.

Which is not to say that pipelines are evil and we should all heat our houses with wood.

What it should do is get us asking questions. In the next few years, Enbridge hopes to run a pipeline that would impact the Murray River both above and below Kinuseo Falls if there was a leak. Is it worth it? What concessions are we willing to make if it is built? What cutbacks are we willing to make if it isn’t? What impact will it have on Tumbler Ridge? What benefits?