On March 17, TransCanada, in the person of Gary Houston, responded to Maude Barlow’s March 14 Op Ed in the Winnipeg Free Press. Houston’s response didn’t address most of the actual issues raised by Barlow, and instead continued to spin talking points that might have sounded convincing if the Free Press readers didn’t already have the correct information.
Since then, various forms of Houston’s piece have made their appearance in other places, including an article on 3BL Media, a content marketing website “focused on niche topics including sustainability, health, energy, education, philanthropy, community and other social and environmental topics.”
MEJC is taking this opportunity to make sure that everyone can easily access to-the-point answers to TransCanada’s spin. We’ve included Barlow’s original Op Ed and Gary Houston’s mythical “myth-busting” response in full below. We open with our own direct clarification of Houston’s fragile arguments.
The Fuller Context
Mr. Houston would, on TransCanada’s behalf, have Winnipeggers believe:
- That TransCanada’s oil pipelines do not leak or rupture near rivers or lakes.
He fails to point out that the natural gas lines running through this corridor have ruptured and ignited at least 11 times in the past 33 years, on average once every 3 years, and leaked natural gas on numerous occasions inside Manitoba. In 1996, their pipeline exploded on the LaSalle River in St Norbert, and set fire to a house 170 metres away.
What if these ruptures had been in a diluted bitumen (dilbit) line, or in one of the parallel gas lines running close enough to the proposed Energy East line to cause a rupture in the dilbit line? Would dilbit have leaked into a river or lake or into the spill reach of a municipal water supply?
- That Energy East’s defect detection technologies will operate perfectly and will predict in advance all potential failures (especially failing welds and corrosion). That the equipment does not operate with proven failure rates. That TransCanada staff, controllers and contractors do not make mistakes in interpreting the equipment’s results and are never negligent.
But we all know that this is not the way the world works. Although Houston claims that “it is a common misconception that small leaks go undetected,” he doesn’t address the reality that only one of the nine ruptures experienced on TransCanada’s mainline pipeline system, which includes the pipe it wants to convert from gas to oil for Energy East, was discovered by their leak-detection system.
The recent leak in the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota was not detected by the leak-detection system, and let spill 63,000 litres of crude (90 times higher than TransCanada’s initial estimate of the “small leak”) before finally being stopped.
Houston wants to make readers think that TransCanada’s leak detection system will find leaks and prevent damage, every time. But the other eight ruptures were discovered accidentally by people, hours after they began.
He does not mention that TransCanada’s operating history shows that its pipelines leak and rupture regularly and he cannot assure us that history will not repeat itself.
Mr. Houston only had one example of a leak that was detected by the much-touted detection system, and shut down “within minutes.” That’s because the detection system does NOT find small leaks quickly enough to prevent contamination of the aqueduct.
- That the aqueduct and pipeline are too far apart for a leak to matter since the average distance between the aqueduct and the pipeline is 10 km
Mr. Houston fails to add that the “average” distance includes a significant stretch on either side of the crossing where the two rights of way are within a few kilometres of each other. Along this stretch, there is no extra care taken to prevent a pipeline leak, spill, or rupture from contaminating the aqueduct. There is no acknowledgment of the 100 kilometres where the aqueduct is further away from the pipeline, but still within a spill reach.
Winnipeg Aqueduct and the Spill Reach of the Energy East Pipeline
He fails to acknowledge that the aqueduct is a 100-year-old, unpressurized concrete structure that leaks. Water leaks out of the aqueduct and into it. Water leaching toxins from spilled dilbit will flow towards the aqueduct.
He briefly refers to the crossing point, and claims that the extra reinforcement in that single spot will protect the entirety of the aqueduct from contamination.
In fact, Mr. Houston tries to distract from the very real risk to the aqueduct by ignoring it. Instead he writes at great length on the non-issue of a risk to Shoal Lake itself, and attempts to use that to refute citizens’ concerns about the aqueduct.
So if the leak that Mr. Houston can’t conceive of within the aqueduct’s right of way occurs within several kilometres on either side of the crossing, water leaching toxins from leaked dilbit may well engulf the aqueduct in short order, entering the aqueduct and contaminating the City’s main reservoir before anyone knows it or before it can be stopped. Will the City in that context be required to shut off the water supply immediately? And let’s not imagine the consequences of dilbit accessing the aqueduct.
MEJC is just as concerned about those places where the distance between the pipeline and the aqueduct is greater. A major spill or an undetected leak could conceivably create a contaminated zone of considerable size (think Kalamazoo) that leaches toxins flowing towards the aqueduct until remedied. Is the City able to deal with the consequences of long term risk of contaminants entering the aqueduct?
The Legal Position
The Charter of the City of Winnipeg imposes a legal obligation on the City to provide safe drinking water to its residents. The Charter gives the City exclusive control of the right-of-way used by the aqueduct in order to perform that legal obligation.
TransCanada and the City are parties to an easement agreement that allows TransCanada to convey gas under the aqueduct. It does not permit the conveyance of dilbit. Dilbit is not natural gas and is a much more dangerous substance.
If the City agrees to an amendment to the agreement and its assignment to the Energy East project company, then it is consenting to the existence of a dilbit pipeline within the aqueduct’s spill reach. Does the City fully appreciate the risks? Does the Province?
We are of the view that the City has a legal obligation to say no to both the amendment and the assignment if the protections in the easement agreement are not expanded to cover all of the foreseeable additional risks imposed on the City and created by the conversion from natural gas to dilbit.
Perhaps given Mr. Houston’s confidence in the safety of the converted line he would arrange to have TransCanada and the customers of Energy East, the shippers and purchasers of dilbit, join in and guarantee Energy East’s obligations under an amended easement agreement. This sounds reasonable to us given that they are all asking the City to put at direct and probable risk the water supply of nearly 800,000 Winnipeggers.
We are pleased that TransCanada “welcomes a healthy discussion” about the future of pipelines in Canada. It is unfortunate that the discussion cannot take place in the NEB hearings, since citizens and intervenors are not allowed to cross examine or ask questions verbally. We would prefer to have the right to appear before the NEB and cross examine the Energy East project applicant and their experts, but since that is not possible under the current rules of the NEB, we appreciate being able to continue the discussion in print.
Myth-busting the Energy East Pipeline
By: Maude Barlow and Michael Matczuk Posted: 03/14/2016 1:52 PM
TransCanada’s controversial Energy East pipeline has become a flashpoint in Canadian politics. It’s billed by the pipeline giant as nation-building, but is facing a growing wall of opposition, particularly in Quebec.
Three easily debunked myths supporting the project continue to appear in the almost daily national coverage.
Myth #1: The threat to waterways from Energy East can be managed
In an era of increasing water scarcity and pollution, Canada must unite around caring for water as a fiercely managed public trust based on the principles of justice and sustainability.
Only one of the nine ruptures experienced on TransCanada’s mainline pipeline system, which includes the pipe it wants to convert from gas to oil for Energy East, was discovered by their leak-detection system. The others were found by TransCanada staff, passersby and an Ontario Provincial Police officer.
This same leak detection system can’t detect spills under 1.5 per cent of the pipe’s capacity. A leak of 1.5 per cent from a 1.1 million barrels per day (BPD) pipeline like Energy East could release up to 2.62 million litres of crude oil per day.
In 48 hours, this could cause the worst oil spill in Canadian history.
The pipeline would ship diluted bitumen from the tar sands. In the most comprehensive review to date, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded diluted bitumen sinks far quicker than conventional oil, and that first responders and the oil industry are not prepared to handle major spills in water.
Energy East’s path could not be in a worse location for Winnipeg.
The pipeline runs alongside most of the length of the sole aqueduct supplying Winnipeg’s drinking water, as well as the Shoal Lake watershed, the traditional territory of Iskatewizaagegan (Shoal Lake 39) and Shoal Lake 40. Contamination could occur from large spills within reach of the aqueduct and Shoal Lake, and more frequent, undetected spills in the boggy Winnipeg aqueduct area.
Manitoba and Winnipeg are legally obligated to protect the drinking water of Winnipeg. The serious threat Energy East presents to Winnipeg’s drinking water is unacceptable.
Myth #2: Energy East will supply Eastern refineries with Canadian oil
Energy East is first and foremost an export pipeline.
TransCanada’s recent filings to the National Energy Board (NEB) indicate the project would see a doubling of oil tanker traffic in the Bay of Fundy, up to 281 a year. This means at least 800,000 BPD is destined for international markets.
Why would refineries opt for other sources?
The Irving refinery in Saint John does not have a track record of displacing oil imports with domestic oil, although it could. As energy expert Gordon Laxer highlights, Newfoundland (a far closer source) produces enough oil to supply all Atlantic Canadian needs; instead, it is exported to the highest bidder, just as the oil transported on Energy East would be.
The two refineries in Quebec are being supplied by the reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 and cheap imports from the United States. A spokesperson from one of the refineries quoted in the Financial Post said they have “no firm interest” in Energy East.
Myth #3: Getting oil to tidewater will help us pay for the transition to a green economy
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently suggested Canada needs pipeline projects to maintain a strong economy, helping to fund the low-carbon transition.
This is like committing to weight loss with an all-poutine diet.
According to a report by the Pembina Institute, filling the pipeline could generate 30 to 32 million tonnes of climate pollution every year, more than the annual emissions of the entire province of Manitoba.
A scientific report published in the journal Nature found 85 per cent of tar sands’ bitumen needs to stay in the ground in order to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, let alone the more necessary and ambitious target of 1.5 degrees. This means no more than 7.5 billion barrels of oil from the tar sands can be produced over the next 35 years. Filling Energy East threatens to exceed that carbon budget in about 19 years.
A pipeline with a 40-year lifespan that enables the production of tar sands’ oil, a high-carbon crude, in an era with more and more legislation targeting climate pollution, makes no economic sense.
We need to focus on investments in solutions, such as high-speed rail and better public transit, home-retrofits programs and renewable energy projects. Investments in these infrastructure areas consistently generate more jobs than those in the fossil fuel industry.
Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Michael Matczuk is a member of the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition. Barlow and Matczuk will be speaking at a public event on Energy East on Wednesday, March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Fort Garry Hotel.
Energy East and Winnipeg’s water: full context
By: Gary Houston
TransCanada welcomes a healthy discussion about the future of pipelines in Canada, but the article Myth-busting Energy East pipeline (March 14) begs response. Key information was omitted regarding the safety of Winnipeg’s drinking water.
To begin, Shoal Lake, the source of the city’s drinking water, is not on the Energy East route. It is in fact approximately 12 kilometres from the route overland. On water, depending on the flow path, crude oil would have to travel between 25.6 and 44.6 kilometres, through still lakes and slow-moving rivers that act as natural barriers, to contain an unlikely release before it could reach anywhere near Shoal Lake or the aqueduct intake, which itself is protected by an earthen dyke.
In the unlikely case of a leak, responders would be on-site to prevent the migration of oil through lakes and rivers. Additionally, historic spill-frequency rates in Canada and the U.S. show pipeline spills in both countries are rare, lessening in frequency and very small — with the majority just four barrels or less in size. In fact, the chance of a spill of any size entering a lake or tributary that has a flow path to Shoal Lake has an occurrence probability of one in several hundred to one in several thousand years.
Further, TransCanada has a comprehensive system of prevention and overlapping leak detection strategies that build in redundancies to ensure an unlikely leak won’t go undetected. Our high-tech oil control centre operates around the clock with highly trained technicians using detection systems to monitor for leaks in real-time.
The real-time systems transmit information every five seconds and are supplemented by on-ground and aerial inspections.
It is a common misconception that small leaks would go undetected. That is not the case. In addition to automatic alarms that notify the control centre of a potential problem, TransCanada’s pipeline controllers monitor the pipeline 24/7, watching for trends in pipeline pressures and flows that may indicate a leak.
This method has proven very effective. For example, in 2011, TransCanada’s pipeline controllers identified an above-ground leak from a small fitting that was equivalent to one-tenth of one per cent of the design flow rate within minutes at a pump station on the Keystone pipeline system in Kansas. The line was shut down within minutes, with the oil fully contained on TransCanada’s property. In fact, TransCanada has never had a single drop of oil leak into a lake or a river.
Further layers of protection include facility maintenance and inspection activities, pipeline in-line inspection activities, aerial and ground patrols as well as third-party reporting. Very small leaks can be corrected before even one barrel of oil is released. Since beginning operations in 2010, the Keystone system has safely delivered more than 1.2 billion barrels of oil.
TransCanada stores equipment, including safety gear, boats, containment and recovery equipment such as booms, skimmers and portable tanks, along the length of the system and is ready to be deployed on a moment’s notice. We are also regulated to have unfettered funds of $1 billion available to respond to any incidents.
Finally, several factors make a spill affecting the aqueduct highly improbable. Energy East crosses under the aqueduct at a single point and is, on average, about 10 kilometres away from it. The line, a heavy-walled pipe in excess of normal design requirements for oil pipelines, is buried two metres below the aqueduct.
It would be virtually impossible for a significant leak to even occur at that exact single location, let alone to then migrate up through the soil to penetrate the concrete and damage the aqueduct.
We hope this information helps Winnipeggers understand the importance we place on protecting environmental resources while ensuring we safely provide the energy Canadians need to fuel their everyday needs.
Gary Houston is TransCanada’s vice-president for Energy East, responsible for the Prairies and Ontario.