2 – . . . It May Still Be a Turkey
The Energy East Pipeline proposal means that 1.1 million barrels of diluted bitumen will be traversing our beautiful country every day. Every single, blessed day.
Except on the days there is a leak. Or a rupture. And there will be leaks and there will be ruptures.
On those days, a portion of that 1.1 million barrels will be sidetracked. That portion may be small, say, two barrels. Or that portion may be large, say, 2,000 barrels.
One official estimate of the Kalamazoo River spill is 27,000 barrels. (You should really look it up.)
Those barrels will be sidetracked into our natural or our urban landscape. And given our existing technology and standard industrial practices, in the case of a big spill, most of the dilbit will never be recovered.
At the public meeting in Thunder Bay, we were advised that a conservative estimate (their term) puts the number of leaks at two per year. That is indeed very conservative.
The World Wide Web is rife with reports of leaky oil pipelines. Here is an excerpt from a Toronto newspaper, The Star, dated 18 January 2015:
“The first phase of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline has leaked 14 times in just two years in operation. The firm also suffered an explosion this month at its Bison natural gas pipeline in Wyoming, a new line open for all of six months. When your newest, presumably state-of-the-art assets are deficient, that’s hardly a public-confidence builder.”
The article by David Olive is titled Enbridge, TransCanada pipeline safety is a pipedream. The next line reads “Enbridge’s records show 804 pipeline spills on its network in the 11 years beginning in 1999.” (You could look it up, and the kazillion other horror stories out there.)
But, for our purposes today, let us confine our attention to the leak-detection system described in the TransCanada Application (TCPL-A). In summary, the clock starts when a possible leak is detected. By the 10-minute point, a shutdown is initiated. And by the 22-minute point, the shutdown has been implemented.
A Captain Kirk would be very proud. The Starship Enterprise has dodged the asteroid that was hurtling toward it at 1.1 million miles an hour. And, by analogy, one isolated spot on our beautiful planet has avoided disaster.
Meanwhile, back in reality . . .
In that 22-minute scenario, oil has been flowing at the rate of 1.1 million barrels every 24 hours. Which means that every hour, 45,833 barrels have hurtled by any given point. Which means that every minute, 763 barrels have passed that same point. That’s about 13 barrels every second.
Which means that in 10 minutes, up to 7,630 barrels could be dumped into the environment.
Okay. Even disasters aren’t that efficient. Let us concede that most spills are small spills. Still . . . it does make one’s heart skip a beat, doesn’t it.
The shutdown process, in the best scenario, takes another 12 minutes, and the leak is continuing. And when the shutdown is complete, the line is still draining at the point of the leak.
Another thought: the clock doesn’t start until the possible leak is detected. How long may it have gone undetected? Minutes? Hours? Or ̶ God forbid ̶ days?
In the Open House I attended over a year ago, hosted by TCPL, they were suggesting an interval between valves of 30 kilometres. That’s a lot of line that could be draining.
The TCPL-A is full of holes ̶ holes where there should be information and verifiable data. For example, it appears that valves are slated for “significant watercourses” (their term), but there is no definition of a significant watercourse. For the whole area west of “Ontario East”, there are only two (that’s right, two) watercourses referenced: Rideau River and Madawaska River. (I know, I know. Are they even in Northern Ontario?)
The Community Discussion Documents (CDD) state “Valve type and placement are critical in determining the volume of product released as a result of a pipeline rupture.” Note the word “critical”. The same paragraph states “Valve assemblies will be specifically positioned to protect significant water crossings, and limit the worst case discharge volume.” Note the word “limit”. There is no reference to prevention. Discharges will be limited, not prevented. And remember, there is no definition of “significant water crossings”.
Judging by the supposedly significant water crossings that are listed in the TCPL-A, only “navigable” watercourses will qualify. There is no definition of “navigable”. In Greenstone, we have scads of watercourses which will not likely qualify as “navigable” although you can launch a canoe or a motorboat in them.
It is a certainty that brooks and seasonal streams will not qualify. Nor will “wetlands” (Is there a definition of wetlands?) The hundreds of kilometres of muskeg swamps that the line crosses in Northern Ontario will definitely not qualify.
There are a vast number of water bodies and wet grounds in Greenstone that will not receive even the questionable protection of valves. Yet . . . at some point . . . all that moisture will either evaporate (leaving the sticky residue after a spill) or find its way into larger water bodies (such as Lake Nipigon and Lake Superior and James Bay).
Can you agree that the TCPL-A duck has evolved?
Hark! What’s that noise?