Dissenting NEB Members Call for Pipeline Closure
Two members of the troubled National Energy Board have broken with the panel’s majority to call for the closure of an aging pipeline that links Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, pumping 172,900 barrels of refined petroleum daily to the cities’ airports and gas stations.
Trans-Northern Pipelines Inc. “has had six years to comply with numerous Safety Orders issued by the Board, but they have failed to fully comply,” the two wrote in a dissenting opinion attached to the NEB’s September 20 ruling. “We are not confident that yet another similar Safety Order will guarantee that the changes necessary to make the pipeline as safe as possible will actually be made this time.”
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The decrepit pipeline, owned and operated by a consortium of oil majors including Imperial Oil (ExxonMobil), Royal Dutch Shell, and Canada’s Suncor, is “plagued with safety problems and leaks,” investigative reporter Mike De Souza reports in the National Observer.
NEB members James Ballem, a former PEI cabinet minister, and Toronto lawyer Mike Richmond, originally from Montreal, disagreed with the board’s other members who opted in late September to allow the pipeline to continue to operate at reduced capacity rather than ordering it closed until repairs are made.
The two “slamm[ed] the Richmond Hill, Ontario-based operator for breaking rules and putting public safety at risk,” De Souza reports.
The pipeline is so poorly maintained that pieces of it have “started sticking out of the ground near a stream, about five kilometres away from the Ottawa River,” De Souza writes. Only after local residents made their concerns public did the NEB say it would send someone to inspect the site.
The regulator issued three safety orders against the line in 2009 and 2010, after finding that it posed a threat to public safety after several “pipeline releases and overpressure incidents.” But when problems “continued to escalate, the NEB issued a new safety order on September 20, 2016 that allowed the operator, Trans-Northern Pipeline Inc., to keep its line in service near the homes of millions of Canadians while reducing its operating pressure by 10%.”
The Observer said Trans-Northern official Gail Sharko did not immediately respond with any new information on the company’s progress in responding to the safety order, after asking the online news outlet to send questions by email.
The National Energy Board, Canada’s national fossil energy regulator, has been reeling for months under ongoing revelations of special allowances for the companies it supposedly oversees, alleged conflicts of interest, and calls—including by the curators of The Energy Mix—for it to be replaced by a new and more credible agency.