1 ̶ If It Walks and Talks Like a Duck . . .
The prospect of a pipeline carrying heavy crude oil in one’s back yard, gives everyone pause. Your back yard may be a province in Canada, or a region, or (as in my case) a location a long rifle shot from your back stoop.
You would hope against hope that somebody ̶ a professional, an expert, a person with credentials ̶ has thought this out. That the pipeline company will have taken every precaution, every single precaution humanly possible, to allay the public’s greatest fear: fear of a leak in the line. Or ̶ God forbid ̶ an egregious rupture that will capture world headlines.
The Kalamazoo River spill of diluted bitumen in July 2010 comes to mind. (Be sure to look it up.)
For its current series of public meetings about the Energy East proposal, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) has prepared a 22-page handout of Community Discussion Documents (also available on its website). I picked up my handout on January 14 when I attended the Thunder Bay meeting at the Valhalla Inn.
For most citizens in Ontario, this handout will be the only official information they will ever have about this proposal by TransCanada Pipeline. How many citizens do you think have seen these Community Discussion Documents? On the other hand, some citizens will be following the issues through the media. If they are depending on the traditional media in Thunder Bay or Northwestern Ontario to get a clear picture of what’s happening, they will be disappointed. A local television station did cover the Thunder Bay meeting, and produced a two-minute-30-second collage of images and commentary. It was a forgettable clip, and if you have forgotten it, you are fortunate.
Now, if you really want to get more complete and accurate information, you must delve into the formal application for project approval made by TransCanada Pipeline (TCPL) on 30 October 2014. The TCPL Application has some 3,000 pages (available online).
I have published my take on the Thunder Bay meeting: http://1drv.ms/1BueH2X . It is far from a clear picture, so I am supplementing my observations and my questions with this post. Maybe you’ll emerge with a less blurry picture of the issues and the process.
Here’s some good news: the proposal outlines a leak-detection strategy. I draw the following information from TransCanada’s Application (TCPL-A):
First, you must remember that TCPL proposes to convert an existing natural gas pipeline (about 1,900 km in Ontario) to carry diluted bitumen. Sections of this line (how many, it’s not clear) date back to the 1950s.
TCPL proposes Operations Control Centres to be strategically placed along the converted line to manage leak detection and emergency responses.
“If an alarm (i.e., the leak detection system) is sounded indicating a potential leak, the OCC controller has a maximum of 10 minutes to conclusively explain the cause of the alarm as a non-leak using established procedures. If a leak cannot be ruled out by the controller, a pipeline shutdown is immediately initiated.”
Somebody with credentials has obviously thought this out. This is very reassuring.
“. . . [P]ipeline shutdowns, including pump shutdown and valve closure to isolate sections, are expected to be completed within 12 minutes . . . Emergency response . . . would be immediately initiated . . .”
I will not go into the specifics of the leak-detection and response systems except to say that at the OEB meeting in Thunder Bay, a technical advisor stated that it involved stop valves (to shut off the one-way flow) and check valves (to prevent back flows). Valves would be strategically located along the line. For example, a stop valve would be located at the point where the pipe crosses a significant watercourse, and on the other side, a check valve would prevent oil from draining back into the water body.
It all sounds very professionally designed.
Within 22 minutes of the detection of a leak, teams of emergency responders will be rolled out to mitigate damages to our beautiful country.
State-of-the-art equipment and expertise will tackle any threats to soils, waterways, wetlands, groundwater (water beneath the ground), marine environments, and urban settings.
This proposal, so far, is walking like a duck. It is talking like a duck. It could very well be a duck.
If you are an uncritical reader, you will accept that it is indeed a duck.
But then there are readers like me. Readers with enquiring minds.
My primary credentials are personal experience and an enquiring mind.