Narrow scope of forums shows task force bias

By Peter Lang

First published in the Chronicle Journal January 17, 2017

Having followed the Energy East pipeline issue for a number of years, I believe that the very narrow scope of the upcoming Common Voice forums, as noted in The Chronicle-Journal, Jan. 2, clearly shows its bias. To suggest that our main concern for the Lake Superior watershed boils down to identifying ‘significant waterways’ and installing supposed state-of-the-art valves is simplistic and foolish.

First and foremost: The stretch of pipeline slated for conversion from natural gas to tarsands bitumen is decades old, and has already suffered a long, documented list of leaks and explosions. From the Ontario Energy Board hearings, and from various Canadian Transportation Board investigations we have learned that those incidents most often resulted from a combination of stress corrosion cracking, and aged, defective coatings. If safety was their overriding concern, why isn’t Common Voice demanding a brand new pipeline to safeguard our region?

Second: Common Voice accepts TransCanada’s assurance that valve shutdown will happen within 22 minutes. Such a spill, if full-bore, would be horrendous in itself. But shut down is dependent upon many related factors: timely remote detection, flawless instrument performance, and proper operator-assessment of the problem – not just properly working valves. Failed pressure could be a failed pump – or a leak.
Investigative reports show that some leaks were prolonged and made worse by operators remotely attempting to re-start pumps when the problem really was a leak. There are ‘false positives’ and ‘negative economics’ which bear upon the operator who often opts for a visual confirmation to finally determine a leak. Most detection is made on the ground, at the site itself. If we are tempted to believe TransCanada, it should be remembered that the Beardmore gas blast in 2011 took eight hours to shut down, and the Kalamazoo, Mich., bitumen leak took 17 hours.

Third: There is no reference made to the average distance of 30 kms between valves (perhaps to be lessened somewhat with a view to ‘significant crossings’). But, given that bitumen is under significant pressure in order to flow, the residual bitumen between valves would simply flow out through the leak.

Fourth: Common Voice assumes that isolating significant waterways would prevent the effects of a dire spill – when in fact all the water in a watershed is connected. In 2010, the huge 900,000-gallon Kalamazoo River leak originated in Talmadge Creek – two miles away. The Energy East pipeline runs across, beside, and under connected waterways in its entire route through the Lake Superior watershed.

Fifth: No reference is made by Common Voice to the fact that bitumen weighs exponentially more than natural gas. Consider what would have happened if it had been bitumen in the 70 metres of pipe which was left suspended along the Nipigon River in the washout of 1990. The mass of that bitumen running downhill to a water crossing, or a sudden valve shut-off or start-up could be enough to rupture an old stress-corroded pipe. So, too, as pipes settle over decades on the sharp edges of rock as runoff water washes out the protective gravel base under the pipe. Old pipes just won’t survive the dynamic loads of bitumen.

Sixth: There is no provision in Common Voice’s forum for the discussion of emergency spill response measures. Consider how bitumen, which sinks, could be successfully cleaned up by any number of personnel or machinery in either running water, or remote bog land – let alone under ice and snow during the winter. Where natural gas was a minor threat, bitumen is totally different.

If we accept the bias of Common Voice we have not done the homework required to save our beautiful and bountiful Lake Superior watershed. Please come out to one of the Common Voice forums to state your opinion. Don’t allow Common Voice shape opinion for you.

Peter Lang