A scathing U.S. government report on the 2010 Enbridge oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, Mich., has yet to be entered as evidence into the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings, a B.C. economist says.
In an interview airing on CBC Radio's The House, independent economist Robyn Allan told guest host Louise Elliott that while the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report was published in July, "Enbridge hasn't tabled any information, at all, about the spill."
Allan says that Enbridge is underestimating the risks posed by the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline because the company's risk assessment excludes the Kalamazoo spill.
"So far, it's as if Kalamazoo never happened," Allan said.
A ruptured Enbridge pipeline leaked an estimated 877,000 gallons (3.3 million litres) of oil into the Kalamazoo river on July 25, 2010, coating wildlife like birds and fish.
The NTSB report concluded there was a "complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge" and that employees at Enbridge acted like "Keystone Kops," failing to recognize that the pipeline had ruptured and continuing to pump oil into the surrounding area.
The cleanup costs have been estimated by Enbridge and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at $800 million U.S., making it the single most expensive on-shore spill in U.S. history according to the NTSB.
When asked about his concerns with the U.S. report, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told The House he had spoken to Gaétan Caron, the Chair of Canada's National Energy Board (NEB), and they agreed this was an issue that "we have to learn from."
"There obviously also has to be a management culture of safety and it has to permeate the organization."
"We feel that the company [Enbridge] has to focus on some of these management issues and the NEB which has direct oversight responsibility is very much attuned to that and is going to pursue it in an objective, independent, and scientific way," Oliver said.
However, when asked whether the U.S. report should be submitted as evidence into the Joint Review Panel looking into the proposed Northern Gateway hearings, Oliver said he could not comment on that.
"I don't want to in any way get into the specifics of what the panel is looking at. First of all, it's inappropriate and it's also a slippery slope. I think it's up to the NEB, to the chair who oversees it, and to the panel to make these decisions."
Feds raise concerns about pipeline safety
With public opinion against the pipeline mounting, the federal government appears to have softened its tone with respect to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper deemed "in the national interest."
When asked if he could explain the federal government's shift in tone, Oliver said: "I, personally, have not said that this pipeline should go through."
But he went on to tout the economic benefits of the proposed project, insisting that safety comes first.
"On the assumption that the project is safe for Canadians, safe for the environment, we think it's very important to proceed because there are enormous economic benefits for the country from coast to coast to coast," Oliver said.
Heritage Minister James Moore told a radio program in Vancouver last Wednesday that doubts about the Northern Gateway project are "widespread, given the behaviour of Enbridge recently."
Meanwhile, the Calgary-based energy company took out national newspaper ads this week touting its pipeline safety record and pledging to invest another $800 million into boosting pipeline safety in 2012.
In an interview with CBC News, Pat Daniel, President and CEO of Enbridge said "we're involved in a highly politically charged project in Northern Gateway and it requires us going to measures to get the word out to the Canadian public."
"We've been challenged in B.C., we've been challenged in a number of locations to do a better job of getting the word out of the safety of pipelines, the safety and track record of Enbridge, and that's really what we're trying to do. We want to make sure the facts get out with regard to this company and the project," Daniel said.
But Allan said Canadians would be better off if Enbridge tabled the NTSB findings instead of spending money on a public relations exercise.
"You'd think that for a company that continuously claims to meet or exceed standards of practice or legislation that the polite and responsible thing to do would be to table all of the NTSB findings... that they would actually take action and make sure all of that documentation was on the table instead of spending time writing ads," Allan said.
Mounting opposition in B.C.
The proposed Northern Gateway project has met with outrage and opposition in British Columbia, particularly in the northern town of Smithers, B.C.
Smithers is located directly along the pipeline's proposed route, which would carry bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. -- where it would then be shipped by oil tankers to Asia.
According to Taylor Bachrach, the mayor of Smithers, the ads taken out by Enbridge this week will do little or nothing to sway public opinion and restore confidence in B.C.
"For the people up here it's not a matter a technology, it's a matter of trust," he said.
"What we saw coming out of the recent Enbridge oil spill in the United States and the report from the NTSB was really that it's the human systems that fell apart, and that there are some serious problems around the way these projects are managed. I'm not sure how that trust could be rebuilt."
B.C. Premier Christy Clark asking for the province's "fair share" was not enough, Bachrach said. He would like to see her reject the pipeline altogether.
"One thing that needs to be made clear is that folks up in this neck of the woods aren't opposing the pipeline because they aren't getting enough money. They're opposing the pipeline because they don't want to see their current economy and their lifestyle and their future put at risk. And I don't think there's any amount of money to change that opposition," Bachrach said.
The northern B.C. mayor said he would like to see Clark "stand with communities in the northwest and with First Nations and say that this project isn't appropriate and shouldn't go forward."