'High-level concerns' about Energy East pipeline identified by Winnipeg

A consultant working for the City of Winnipeg has identified "high-level concerns" about the Energy East pipeline, but a detailed report about the potential risks may not be made public until next year.

Precise nature of concerns to be laid out in report; city needs early-warning system to protect water supply

TransCanada's Energy East pipeline would have moved crude from Alberta to the Atlantic. (Canadian Press)

A consultant working for the City of Winnipeg has identified "high-level concerns" about the Energy East pipeline, but a detailed report about the potential risks may not be made public until next year.

Winnipeg is one of the intervenors at National Energy Board hearings about the proposed 4,600-kilometre oil pipeline from Alberta to the Atlantic Ocean, a project that would see a TransCanada natural-gas pipeline that runs across southern Manitoba converted to carry crude.

Earlier this year, the city hired a consultant to develop a report that must be completed before the city appears before a National Energy Board panel in April 2017.

Geoff Patton, manager of engineering for Winnipeg's water and waste department, told city council's water and waste committee on Thursday that the consultant has identified "some high-level concerns" about an area of eastern Manitoba where the pipeline route crosses over the Winnipeg Aqueduct and several other points along the pipeline, including a section near the Brady Road Landfill.

The city also has some concerns in general about the Shoal Lake watershed, which is the source of Winnipeg's drinking water.

"We're going to be fleshing that out more," Patton told reporters following the meeting. "The pipeline does cross our infrastructure. We raised this issue. We're working on it. If contaminants get into the water supply, the Shoal Lake aqueduct is our only supply for the City of Winnipeg. What you've seen in Prince Albert is our concern."

Patton said because Winnipeg's water-treatment plant cannot scrub hydrocarbons out of the water supply, the city would have to create some form of early-warning monitoring system to ward against the possibility of an oil spill affecting its water supply.

"We're not going to rely on someone wandering by to identify a leak for us. We're going to have to protect ourselves," he said. "We're going to have to develop a system."

Right now, however, the precise nature of the risk has not been determined. Patton said the consultant's report must be submitted to the National Energy Board before next year's hearings but analyses may continue after the city's initial appearance at a panel where city officials will present concerns and TransCanada will have an opportunity to respond.

Patton said water and waste will also prepare a report to city council. It's unclear when that report will come forward, he said.

The request will likely include some sort of request to create a monitoring system, Patton added. Right now, there is no money in the capital budget forecast for such a system.

TransCanada, for its part, says it expects questions about the Energy East proposal. 

"We completely understand that, and share the issue of safety and protection of the environment as an essential part of building and operating a pipeline," company spokesman Tim Duboyce said in a statement.

"We know the recent Husky Oil spill that impacted the North Saskatchewan River has some people asking questions about pipeline safety -- and rightfully so. While very rare, there is no doubt, incidents such as these shake public confidence."

Duboyce said before Energy East could go into service, every weld would be examined visually by inspectors as well as by ultrasonic and X-ray tests.

"The pipeline is pretested with water at a significantly higher pressure than what it will operate at, before any oil is added," he said. 

City discloses sewage-effluent problem

Water and waste officials are working to fix a a sewage-pipe issue that has led to periodic problems with too much E. coli showing up in effluent from the North End Water Pollution Control Centre.

A section of pipe that carries disinfected, treated effluent out of the plant has a low point where some effluent gets trapped and becomes stagnant, allowing bacteria to regrow, Patton told council's water and waste committee on Thursday.

During high-volume discharges, that stagnant effluent gets flushed into the Red River, causing E. coli counts in the effluent stream to exceed provincial limits, he said.

The problem poses no health concern but must be fixed, Patton said, adding he's confident an engineering procedure will resolve the issue in the short term.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.