Enbridge experts grilled over pipeline leak detection at BC hearing

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — The ability to detect leaks along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline won’t be known until the pipeline is built and pumping oil through the remote wilderness of northern British Columbia, a lawyer for the province noted Wednesday at a hearing deciding the pipeline’s fate.Chris Jones grilled a panel of company experts on the design of the 1,100-kilometre pipeline that would deliver oil from the Alberta oil sands to a tanker port on the B.C. coast.“So is what you’re telling me that the actual sensitivity of a pipeline — perhaps this pipeline, along with other ones — can only be determined when it’s actually been constructed and you’re able to test that actual pipeline in operation?” Mr. Jones asked on the second day of environmental assessment hearings in Prince George, B.C.“We have a quite an operating history…. It’s not an issue of trust us, wait ’til construction,” answered Barry Callele, director of pipeline control systems and leak detection for Enbridge Pipelines Inc.[np-related]Testing is and has been underway, Mr. Callele said, and test results show the estimates provided in the project proposal are conservative.“But I guess the answer to my question is still: We don’t know until it’s been built. Isn’t that right?” Mr. Jones asked.“I think we know what we know today. We’ll know more at every phase along the pipeline construction project and we’ll know emphatically or empirically at the time that fluid withdrawal tests are done at different sections of the pipeline.”Mr. Callele said there would be five overlapping leak-detection systems on the twin pipelines that would carry diluted bitumen to the tanker port in Kitimat, B.C., and condensate from Kitimat back to Bruderheim, Alta., including aerial surveillance, foot patrols, and 132 monitored pressure valves along the route.“We will have one of the best instrumented pipeline systems not only in North America, but probably the world,” Mr. Callele told the panel.Mr. Jones pointed out that according to U.S. data, there were 31 leaks from Enbridge pipelines in that country since 2002, and six of the 10 largest spills by volume in that time were from Enbridge pipelines.Of those six, none were detected by Enbridge leak detection systems, Mr. Jones said.Specifically, Mr. Jones raised questions about the pipeline’s design and about spills along Enbridge pipelines in the Northwest Territories and one in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan — a massive spill that took two years and almost $800-million to clean up.“Enbridge has admitted that procedural violations occurred during the Marshall incident,” Mr. Callele said, referring to the Michigan spill.He said procedural and “cultural” changes have been implemented since then.John Carruthers, president of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, said outside the hearings that people have concerns about whether the pipeline can be built and operated safely, and the questions being raised in the hearing room are “very legitimate.”But Northern Gateway is a state-of-the-art system, he said.“Whatever industrial activity you have, it has some element of risk,” Carruthers told reporters. “The real key is to try and get that as low as possible. In our case, we’re trying to get that to zero.” read more

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