Examining safe oil transportation through residential neighbourhoods
YLJ FILE PHOTO/CARMEN MARIE FABIO
Oil transportation from western Canada traverses both the Vaudreuil-Soulanges and West Island regions and surrounding municipalities are pressing the oil transport companies to adapt stricter safety measures.
Radio Canada’s March 22 ‘Découverte’ broadcast discussed oil transportation across Canada and given two upcoming pipeline projects in Vaudreuil-Soulanges, a marked increase in railway oil transport across some densely populated Vaudreuil-Soulanges and West Island areas, and a recent history of disasters in North America, concern over safety is at an all-time high.
The episode devoted a segment on oil transportation in our region with commentaries from Simon Richard, Energy Issues Advisor for the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC. “The show took a new, more scientific look at the situation with neutral data, contrary to what the different stakeholder groups have been stating,” Richard commented after the broadcast.
But while ‘Découverte’ painted a neutral picture of the situation, the facts presented were sobering. Lorraine Caron, spokesperson for local interest group Les Citoyens au Courant, commented that the broadcast will, “make people think about energy policies in Canada.” Caron feels there is still work to be done to minimize risks and is a strong proponent of performing hydrostatic tests on the aging 9B pipeline. Enbridge Pipelines Inc. and the National Energy Board (NEB) have rejected the proposal so far.
Despite the Lac-Mégantic train disaster that claimed 47 lives, the broadcast questioned whether pipelines were actually a more secure means of transporting oil. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), pipelines have spilled three times more oil than trains over comparable distances between 2004 and 2014 in North America. “We feel that the pipeline versus train argument is futile, because oil companies do not respect regulations, whether it’s for pipelines or trains,” stressed Richard.
While Enbridge’s 9B pipeline and Trans-Canada’s proposed Energy East project garner most of the public’s attention, it is easy to discount railway oil transportation, which has grown significantly over the past few years. Railway oil tankers routinely go through the heart of Vaudreuil-Dorion and Terrasse-Vaudreuil communities, as well as through some West Island residential areas, including Beaconsfield and Dorval, on their way to Montreal East refineries.
Between 2009 and 2014, the number of railway oil tankers in North America has increased from 10,800 to 400,000 per year, a phenomenal increase that went unnoticed, until the Lac-Mégantic disaster in 2013. Kathy Fox, President of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), underlined that DOT 111 railway tankers − designed to an outdated standard and involved in the Lac- Mégantic disaster − are still in service, even though Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has taken measures to immediately phase out 5,000 of those tankers and the remaining ones over the next three years.
Another 70,000 DOT 111 tankers are still in service in North America. According to Fox, the new standard still leaves too high a risk for oil spills in case of an accident. Communication of emergency information from Enbridge to the MRC has not evolved much, according to Richard. “We have received some documents that (Enbridge) was calling emergency response plans, but according to us, the documents were incomplete, or they had been censored extensively. Before it can share the more sensitive content, Enbridge is asking for municipalities to sign confidentiality agreements.”
In a February 5 letter addressed to Guy Jarvis, President of Enbridge’s pipeline division, NEB President Peter Watson stated his concern that, “Enbridge’s practice regarding the signing of confidentiality agreement was going against the principal of transparency that guides the NEB’s regulatory approach.” Watson went on to state that an appropriate and efficient planning of emergency response is required to ensure the safety of pipelines and to inspire the public’s confidence. One litre of oil can pollute up to 1 million litres of water according to ‘Découverte.’
Given that the 9B pipeline will transport 300,000 barrels per day, Enbridge’s response time of two to three hours may not be adequate to prevent a catastrophe. “From my perspective, the response has been anemic,” stated Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, regarding Enbridge’s 18-hour response time following the Kalamazoo incident. In his November 2013 statement to the Quebec Parliamentary Commission, Enbridge spokesperson Eric Prud’Homme asserted that Enbridge had modified its work methodology following the incident in Michigan. But Richard feels that Prud’Homme’s reassurances are mere words.
As recently as last March, the NEB imposed two fines to Enbridge for a total amount of $200,000 for work done on its Line 3 pipeline in Manitoba, most of that amount being related to environmental and security risks. Regarding the Energy East Pipeline project, the main concern is the actual path of the pipeline through our region. According to Richard, the path deposited to the NEB is not the latest one, and it is changing frequently. “We still do not have the emergency measure plans for the proposed project, or even for the existing gas pipeline,” Richard said.
He also states that while safety is a priority for the MRC, Trans-Canada does not prepare emergency measure plans ahead of time. “The MRC feels that safety should come first and should be a factor in the selection of the path for the pipeline,” Richard stressed. While Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre asked for a perfect grade when it comes to the transportation of petroleum products, École Polytechnique’s Louis Fradette reminds us “zero risk is not possible,” regardless of what safety measures are put into service.