3 – They May Say ‘Trust Us’ . . .
Let us look at the human element.
Let’s look at the OCC ̶ the Operations Control Centre. Or more exactly, the OCC controller. The leak alarm is tripped. The controller ̶ a he or a she ̶ has, by the rules, 10 minutes to determine if it’s a real alarm or a false alarm. The clock is ticking. She loses a few seconds as she quells her panic. She frantically checks for all the indicators (neither the public nor the OEB know, from the documents, what these indicators are ̶ no matter).
Soon the OCC-in-Chief ̶ hundreds, maybe thousands, of kilometres away, in Calgary or somewhere ̶ is monitoring the controller. Before long, the lone controller feels that the eye of every superior in the entire company ̶ perhaps even in the entire oil industry ̶ is drilling holes in her back. The clock ticks. And it ticks. And it ticks. The time is running out. If she declares a false alarm, and she is right, she gets showers of praise. If it happens to really be a real alarm, hell will break loose. Okay . . . not hell, but barrels, maybe barrels and barrels, maybe thousands of barrels of a hellish substance will break loose. Then the controller can expect showers of a hellishly sticky substance . . . more brown than black.
Suppose the controller decides to initiate a shutdown. Suppose she is right and it is really a real alarm. Showers of praise. Suppose she is wrong and it is really a false alarm. Showers again . . . of a different sort. Because a shutdown of the line, besides being a nuisance, means a loss of millions of dollars of potential revenue from undelivered heavy crude.
You know, in that 10 minutes of decision time, a lot of things will be running through that controller’s mind. Things such as praise or blame, promotion or demotion, a career or unemployment . . .
Not only personal judgment and expertise will be tested. Ethics will be tested. Ethics not only of the controller but also of her superiors. Maybe, someone is thinking, it wouldn’t really hurt anything to stretch that 10 minutes to 20. Or to 60. Or to 10 hours. The Kalamazoo River spill went undetected, supposedly, for 17 hours. (You could look it up.)
We could run a similar analysis on the emergency responders. But we won’t. For we all know there are so many reasons one can find to delay and if necessary to deny and, in the end, one can always resort to a righteous defence.
There is one thing we can trust without cavil. The OEB will make the best recommendation it can to the Minister of Energy.
Okay . . . there will be weasel words in the recommendation. Weasel words that it will repeat from the assessment of the TCPL-A by its most trusted advisors: Det Norske Veritas (Canada) Ltd. (DNV GL for short).
Several times during the public meeting at the Valhalla Inn, the technical advisors and the OEB rep described what DNV GL was doing as a “preliminary assessment”. It is not clear if the Community Discussion Documents (CDD) expressed the preliminary assessment, or if the report to the Minister would be a preliminary assessment. TCPL promised a full Application last spring. It submitted an incomplete Application on October 30. It is still promising to get all the stuff in before DNV GL makes its assessment in another month or two, preliminary or otherwise. Do not blame the public if they are skeptical. After all, they will not even see the missing material, for all public comments must be submitted by February 6.
We can trust DNV GL to make the best assessment they can. They have the credentials and the reputation. Still, in the CDD, we find statements such as “It is only possible to conduct a high level assessment of the Application at this time.” Look at the phrase “high level assessment”. This seems to mean that their assessment is, so far, mostly guesswork. If the missing material does not materialize, or if it comes in too late for a “nuts-and-bolts scrutiny” (my phrase), then DNV GL’s assessment for the Minister will remain a high level assessment. (I.e., preliminary.)
Your unspoken question is “Can OEB’s timetable allow for more time for the TCPL data to roll in, and for the public to scrutinize it?” The OEB rep at the public meeting said no. Absolutely not.
How reputable is DNV GL? The CDD state “DNV GL is . . . the leading technical advisor to the global oil and gas industry . . . “
Wow. It operates in more than 100 countries. “. . . [O]ur 16,000 professionals are dedicated to helping our customers make the world safer, smarter and greener.”
Wow. Think of the fine line that DNV GL must tread in this process: retaining the confidence of a multitude of customers in the oil and gas industry, and taking a hard look at the TCPL-A. But . . . I have confidence . . . that they will perform their duties . . . as professionals (even if they have to use a weasel word from time to time). I trust them. I just have to pay attention to what they are saying.
At the public meeting, the advisors and the OEB rep alluded several times to their mandate as expressed in the Minister’s letter dated 12 November 2013. The Minister laid down six principles. The first and, for the purposes of this essay, most important is “Pipelines must meet the highest available technical standards for public safety and environmental protection”.
An excellent principle. It is no doubt the same principle that TCPL followed before it prompted the The Star’s report quoted earlier. Remember? “The first phase of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline has leaked 14 times in just two years in operation . . . (etc., etc.).”
In response to a question at the public meeting on January 14, DNV GL stated that is was not prepared to question the probability of failure of the pipeline’s integrity, the probability being two leaks per year. And DNV GL is quite right. That is not part of its mandate. DNV GL cannot question “the highest available technical standards” that are followed by the industry.
The OEB accepts that position. The Minister of Energy will accept that. The Government of Ontario will accept that. And you can be absolutely positive that TransCanada Pipeline is happy with that position. TCPL is prepared, apparently, to live with the possibility of 14 leaks in just two years.
Neither DNV GL nor the OEB can look at anything outside the TransCanada Pipeline Application and the highest available technical standards of the industry.
And trust them, they will do just that.