by Edgar J. Lavoie
[This op-ed article is adapted from the last chapter of a four-chapter post on E.J. Lavoie’s Blog (ejlavoie.wordpress.com ). The post (dated 23 January 2015 and titled TCPL PROPOSES, NATURE DISPOSES) arose from the author’s participation in a public meeting on 14 January 2015 in Thunder Bay. The Ontario Energy Board has been charged with making a recommendation to the Minister of Energy on TransCanada Pipeline’s proposal for an Energy East pipeline. TransCanada proposes to convert one of its mainline natural gas pipelines to transport diluted bitumen. The converted line would run for about 1,900 km through Ontario, passing through, among other places, the Greenstone region, in the boreal forest north of Lake Superior. An extensive news article by the author is also available in PDF format ( http://1drv.ms/1BueH2X ).]
Another four principles in the letter of the Minister of Energy stipulate that Aboriginal communities must be consulted, that local communities must be consulted, that TransCanada Pipeline (TCPL) must demonstrate “economic benefit and opportunities to the people of Ontario”, and that the proponent (TCPL) must take financial responsibility for emergency responses and remediation (up to a point).
Let us address a sixth principle: “Pipelines must have world leading [sic] contingency planning and emergency response programs”.
The TCPL Application (TCPL-A) provides scenarios for addressing spills in different environments and seasonal conditions. I am choosing the scenario that seems to most closely resemble our situation in Northern Ontario. It comes from Appendix Vol. 7-9, Terrestrial Spill Response with Impacts on Navigable Water.
“In this scenario, a land-based release of 10,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil from the Project’s mainline pipeline occurs in the winter in an area with deep groundwater (depth greater than 10 vertical meters [sic]), sloping terrain, with nearby wetlands, and river within 300 m. There is a public water intake one kilometer [sic] downriver and a partially ice-covered lake/wetland complex two km downriver.”
Bakken crude is diluted bitumen (aka dilbit).
The scenario continues: “Because of the sloping terrain described in this scenario, the oil would migrate horizontally down-gradient and into the nearby river. As the river flow is approximately three kilometers [sic] per hour, it is likely that crude oil would reach the location of the public water intake one kilometer [sic] downriver within 20 minutes (and prior to it being contained).”
Yes, you may well shudder. Eventually, though, notifications would go out and responders would react.
A containment boom would be deployed around the public water intake within one hour. There would be “further deployment of cascading deflection and booms [sic] in multiple downriver locations, all of which would occur within 24 hours.” The booms would direct the oil to the shore where responders would collect it with suction equipment and surface skimmers. Helicopters would transport personnel and equipment.
To give you an idea of the containment strategies, here is the list taken from Section 6.5.2 of Volume 7: Construction and Operations:
- securing the release site . . . to minimize access by wildlife or unauthorized access
- using dams and dykes
- deploying containment booms and diversion booms, including sorbent booms
- installing underflow dams or overflow dams
- ice-slotting where waterways are ice-covered
Here is the list of removal strategies:
- applying sorbents and other absorbent materials
- deploying oil skimmers
- deploying suction equipment, including vacuum trucks
- deploying filters and various netting techniques
There could also be chemical dispersants and in-situ burning. “These responses have a short window of opportunity for effectiveness . . . “
Okay. It sounds as if they have the situation covered.
But I’m a “show me” kind of guy. So I imagine the 10,000-barrel spill occurring in Greenstone. I imagine it happening in Beardmore, where the current TCPL mainline passes within a few hundred metres of the river that skirts the edge of town. The Blackwater River flows from east to west, emptying into Lake Nipigon about 25 kilometres away.
Hold on a minute. How much is 10,000 barrels anyway? I burn a good portion of that in my little Kia every year. Okay, let’s look at a rail tank car, model CTC-111A (called DOT-111 in the U.S.). It carries up to 30,000 U.S. gallons. That is close to 700 barrels. So, 700 divided into 10,000 . . . is . . . Oh, that can’t be right.
It is simply impossible to imagine 14 tank cars being dumped on Beardmore’s doorstep.
On the ice near the water treatment plant. It is, remember, wintertime.
Okay. The municipal emergency response team is likely to be the volunteer fire department. So the guys arrive promptly at the water intake with their brooms, shovels, rakes, and possibly even a containment boom.
Uh oh. The river is frozen solid. The dilbit is accumulating on the ice. Can’t use the boom. Maybe use sand bags, then ̶ make a dam? Uh oh. Not part of the equipment.
But no matter. As the dilbit cascades downriver on the ice, it bypasses the water intake. What fantastic luck. Before the churning wave of black goo leaves town, it meets a waterfall. Can they use the boom there? Get real. The toxic sludge slips under the ice downstream.
Now it’s the turn of the nearest TransCanada personnel. If they’re quick, they arrive from the nearest pumping stations on the line just as the firemen are nailing up signs to advise the wildlife to keep their distance and warning off any onlookers (who are unauthorized personnel) who show indications of wanting to throw lighted matches into the oily torrent.
Wait. Back up. The TCPL guys will have a ton of equipment to transport to Beardmore. So they don’t arrive until the dilbit is well on its way to Lake Nipigon. Under the ice.
Note this: references to dilbit in the TCPL-A suggest that it has many of the qualities of conventional oil. It will even float on water. Well, it does, mostly. When it’s hot. To make this stuff flow through the pipeline, it has to be heated, from 41 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise it is a sludge. So, as soon as it hits the snow (between the pipe and the river) and tumbles onto the ice (of the river), it is cooling off. As it slips under the ice, a lot of it is no longer skimming the underside of the ice. It is sinking.
Okay. Finally the TCPL guys start deploying their equipment. Downriver.
Wait. Back up. There is no road paralleling the river downriver. There is not even road access to any part of the river downriver.
Call in the helicopters. The nearest chopper service is likely Thunder Bay . . . less than 200 km away as the oil-coated raven flies (but that raven will have heavy wings). Hopefully, the fleet of choppers will have been under contract since the oil first started flowing through the line way back when. The pilots have been keeping the engines warm and chewing on wake-up pills to keep alert. So there is no problem getting them up to Beardmore in a couple of hours.
The helicopters load up personnel and equipment.
Aw, geez. Where are they going to offload their cargo? A chopper needs a proper landing pad. A piece of flat ground, cleared of snow, with trees and shrubs well back from the whirling blades.
Okay. Offload the cargo. Get a bunch of guys with snowshoes and chainsaws and hot coffee and hack out a few helipads.
Where? What do I mean by “where”? Well, part of the response strategy is to track how far the oil travels downriver so that containment procedures can be implemented. The TCPL-A strategy for this scenario is “helicopters and drones [yes, drones ̶ that’s verbatim] would also be used to track the oil flow trajectory”.
These would be futuristic helicopters and drones which can track the oil which is invisible to the naked eye or any digital camera lens.
But wait. Far, far downriver is a major waterfall. They can track the oil at that place. Sure, it’ll be tricky positioning a containment or deflection boom at the top of a waterfall, but let’s not say it can’t be done until we try.
Do you hear that dull drone? It is the voice of the prophet. The voice is saying, over and over, Man proposes, God disposes.
Meanwhile, back to business. More personnel will be arriving from far-flung places like Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, maybe even Calgary. They will be bringing the really serious equipment and the more seriously trained responders.
If the Blackwater River flows at the rate of 3 km per hour, then the water that left Beardmore 8 to 10 hours earlier is emptying into Canada’s sixth Great Lake ̶ Lake Nipigon.
I’d love to go on because I’m having so much fun. But it’s time to get (more) serious.
We haven’t even gotten into the remediation phases of the grand strategy. We are talking of remediation of soil (where brooms, shovels, and rakes are some of the tools), of groundwater (vacuum trucks may help), of marine environment (I believe Lake Nipigon qualifies as one), and urban landscape (we imagined the rupture occurring within the boundaries of Beardmore).
What’s it all going to cost? No problem, TCPL is responsible for all costs (up to a point). At the public meeting in Thunder Bay, references were made to a 1-billion-dollar limit. Not bad.
Wait a minute. The Kalamazoo River spill has cost 1 billion Canadian dollars already. And the job’s not done. And that’s just one spill.
The nightmare becomes more marish. The dream of a leak-free pipeline begins with the highest technical standards of an industry that takes leaks in its stride. It continues with a description of a leak-detection system second-to-none. It . . . Wait a minute.
I found this headline in a Huffington Post article dated 11 July 2012: Government Investigation Provides Damning Picture of the Kalamazoo Tar Sands Spill.
Here is an extract: “Enbridge continued to operate the pipeline for 17 hours after the spill despite warnings from the leak detection system. The operator took no steps to investigate the potential leak, did not respond to 911 calls reporting the smell of oil, and only shutdown the pipeline after third parties located the spill.”
Of course that could never happen in Greenstone. Some berry picker or bird hunter would report the spill long before 17 hours are up. Wait a minute ̶ the scenario is wintertime, so no berries and no birds in season.
To continue: TransCanada Pipeline has described a foolproof emergency response system. And TCPL believes that diluted bitumen is not as difficult to clean up as some scaremongers would have us believe. And TCPL will post a bond for 1 billion dollars. And think of the jobs, man. Think of the jobs.
Remember this principle from the Minister’s letter?: “Projects should provide demonstrable economic benefits and opportunities to the people of Ontario, over both the short and the long term [sic]”.
Okay, the TransCanada Pipeline Application has not provided any figures yet ̶ nothing demonstrable ̶ the information is coming. Some day. Don’t know when. Cross their heart or they hope to die.
Having one of the six principles ignored in the TCPL-A is not a problem. Unless you’re a stickler.
One last thing: does Ontario, or does Canada, need a pipeline to transport heavy crude oil to ships on the Atlantic seaboard?
I don’t have an answer. I don’t have the credentials for that.
Ask the professionals. Det Norske Veritas (Canada) Ltd. (the OEB’s technical advisor) has 16,000 of them to scrutinize the 3,000 pages of the TCPL-A. Alright, to be fair, only a few will be assigned to that task. They began the task in early December. I began the task last week. I got through a few dozen pages. And I don’t have the credentials anyway, except . . .
Personal experience . . .
And an enquiring mind.
Why should anyone take me seriously?
I am just Joe Public.
When’s the last time your politicians listened to you?
P.S. The OEB is not accepting any more public input after February 6. Yes, this year.
[The author lives on a lake in Greenstone, Ontario, and draws his water from a well. The TCPL mainline passes over a geological formation and a creek within two kilometres of his home. The creek flows into the lake and the geology replenishes his well. A PDF version of the complete blog post is available ( http://1drv.ms/15rvzJs).]