How safe is a 60-year-old natural gas pipeline when it’s converted to carry heavy crude?
The short answer: not very.
That was the consensus of the public meeting last night at Geraldton’s Community Centre. Common Voice Northwest invited everyone to comment on a serious issue. Of course, everyone turned out. Everyone that counted. Nine or ten of us.
CVNW is an intervenor in the proposed Energy East (aka TransCanada Pipelines aka TransCanada Corporation) pipeline. The proposal is to take an ancient natural gas pipeline that runs 1900 kilometres across Northern Ontario and through the Ottawa valley and to repurpose the unused or underused sections of it to carry diluted bitumen.
What is diluted bitumen? It’s the stuff that the Alberta tar sands wants to ship out of the province as fast and conveniently as it can because it doesn’t want to deal with it (i.e., refine it on site). Dilbit is the most horrible toxic sludge you can imagine. Compared to it, fentanyl is lemonade.
CVNW is the creature of NOMA ̶ Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. CVNA has hired KBM Resources Group to conduct meetings in communities along the TCPL corridor. Last night, the facilitator, Steve, made it clear that neither KBM nor CVNW is taking sides. Nor are they defending any aspects of the Energy East proposal. Nor are they equipped to answer anyone’s questions about the multitudinous questionable aspects of the proposal. They are simply gathering information.
And CVNW, as an intervenor (an official input-er ̶ if there is such a word ̶ of the review process). Their expenses are underwritten by Energy East. And CVNW, via KBM, will pass on the gathered information to the big guns that call the shots on whether Energy East gets approval to proceed.
Steve wanted two types of information. One, identify which water crossings are significant. That’s the label, “significant”. If a rupture should occur at or close to a water crossing in the proposed converted pipeline, how sensitive is the spot to environmental damage?
In the detailed proposal that I examined two years ago (and I suspect that little has changed since), Energy East had identified not a single “significant” water crossing in Northern Ontario. I guess somebody told them that they had to do better. I guess they now believe they should get some information. CVNW is stepping up.
The consensus of the meeting last night: every water crossing is significant. I know. That is not news. If you’ve been following the news lately, you know that in every public meeting, Energy East is being advised that every water crossing in Northern Ontario (and they are thousands of them) is significant.
Supposedly, Energy East will monitor these crossings more closely than other spots in the pipeline. How good are their proposed leak-detection-and-response systems? Not very. Check out my article, How Energy East’s Pipeline Could Contaminate Beardmore, the Blackwater River, and Lake Nipigon Without Hardly Trying ( http://bit.ly/2jfIqpw ) .
Two, rank nineteen (yes, nineteen) areas of environmental sensitivity at water crossings you are familiar with.
Back to the first classification of info. I identified Creelman Creek as a significant water crossing. It is two kilometres from our home on Wildgoose Lake. The creek is not big, but it is significant. You can wade across it in many places, but still, a rupture where the pipeline crosses it could have major consequences. Given the poor record of current and proposed leak-detection-and-response systems, it could have catastrophic consequences.
The first consequence: our drilled well is replenished with water that runs in the geological formation where the rupture would occur.
Other consequences: Creelman Creek drains into Wildgoose Lake, where our home is. There are hundreds of other camps and residences on Wildgoose Lake, some of which have wells, others of which draw water from the lake.
We have a great sport fishery. We host a multitude of waterfowl in season. We are home to countless wildlife that depend on water (moose, beavers, otters). We enjoy many water-based recreational activities. And our water helps replenish the Great Lakes. Yes, the waters of Creelman Creek and Wildgoose Lake drain westward into other lakes and rivers, run through Lake Nipigon, and on into Lake Superior.
In this region through which the converted pipeline would run, there are thousands of water crossings and wetlands (muskegs may be classed as wetlands). Water in our region (whatever its location) does one of three things: it evaporates, it recirculates in soil and living species, or it finds its way into the Atlantic Ocean (via the Great Lakes) or the Arctic Ocean, via James and Hudson Bays.
Dilbit kills whatever it touches.
Another thing: this converted pipeline will leak. Even Energy East admits that. What it hopes to accomplish is to mitigate the damage. Small hope.
With regard to the second classification of information: the consensus of the meeting last night was that the most sensitive area would be a community’s water intake downstream of a rupture. Much farther down the list of nineteen sensitivities were caribou calving areas and habitats of rare plants. Remember, we were asked to identify sensitive areas that we knew of. There might have been fourteen or more areas that were sensitive that we knew nothing about, from personal knowledge. Perhaps the experts should be consulted.
As I said before, everybody in Greenstone had a chance to comment on Energy East’s proposal. By everybody, I mean the nine or ten of us who attended the meeting. So we commented on behalf of everybody in Greenstone. Well, on behalf of at least half of Greenstone . . . because there’s a meeting in Longlac tonight.
Having said all this, am I against the Energy East proposal? The short answer is yes.
Am I against a pipeline that would carry heavy crude across this region to a refinery in the east? Not necessarily.
My first condition for approval would be using an existing utility corridor. That, apparently, is no problem. Dig up the old natural gas pipeline and recycle the metal. Second, a new proposal should be based on a brand new pipeline constructed to the highest standards. Not, I’m afraid, according to current industry standards. Those kinds of pipelines leak regularly. The new standards should incorporate what is known about almost 100%-leak-proof pipeline material and advanced leak-detection-and-response systems and 24/7 eyeball surveillance.
This technology does exist now. Yes, it is expensive. But, we think our environment is priceless. We like it the way it is. We’ll take a pass on the dilbit cocktail.
The next time you meet an Energy East official, ask him or her about stainless steel pipelines, and pipeline pigs (you could look it up), and drone inspections.
He or she will say, But that’s way too expensive!
And you will say . . .