Dakota spill has revived debate over Enbridge Gateway pipeline

An initial spill estimate of approximately 3,000 barrels (126,000 gallons) of light crude oil was reported to federal and state regulatory authorities.

The spill at an Enbridge pipeline in North Dakota has raised questions over the reliability of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project to keep oil from spilling in Northern B.C.

The leak, which is located in Pembina County, North Dakota, was detected by the Enbridge pipeline control
center at approximately 11:30 p.m. on January 8.

“While we can’t prevent every leak, we certainly do our best. We think we have a good track record and technology has allowed us to be a very safe operator of the movement of oil,” said Northern Gateway’s Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Steve Greenaway.

Greenaway claimed that Enbridge has roughly 50 or 60 leaks per year – the average for the past two or three years.
“The majority of those are contained within our facilities and those incidents would happen at a facility like a pumping station where we might have leaks as small as two gallons,’ said Greenaway.

The pipeline is part of the massive system that transports most Western Canadian oil to the U.S. Midwest, Oklahoma and southern Ontario. The line that was damaged extends to Superior, Wisconsin, from Cromer, Manitoba. Its capacity is 440,000 barrels a day.

According to a Pembina Institute report on Pipelines and Salmon in Northern B.C., a review of pipelines regulated by the National Energy Board found that large diameter oil pipelines — such as the proposed Enbridge oil sands pipelines — fail from corrosion and stress after 28 years on average. Pipelines can also fail suddenly from third party damage or natural events such as landslides. The pipelines would operate in areas with steep terrain where significant avalanche and landslide dangers exist, increasing the risk of failures.

There is an average of one rupture every 16 years for every 1,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada, according to the same report. A similar study by the Alberta Energy Utilities Board examined energy-related pipelines of various sizes and found that in 2005 there were 2.4 failures for every 1,000 kilometres of pipeline in Alberta.

Prince Rupert environmentalist Jennifer Rice said that the spill is indicative of the kinds of concern that has created local opposition to the project.

“Enbridge simply cannot prevent oil spills from its pipelines,” said Rice, who is the Chair of Friends of Wild Salmon. “And in our watersheds, even one oil spill of this magnitude is unacceptable.”

Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands to a supertanker port at Kitimat, crossing several wild salmon watersheds.

Economic viability is Enbridge’s defense for the proposed project. Canada is the top exporter of oil to the U.S., exporting more than 1.9 million barrels per day.

Alberta has seen a large increase in oil investment. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, total oil sands investment was $59 billion from 1997 to 2006 and CAPP forecasts a further $80 billion of investment by 2010.
It is these kinds of economic benefits Enbridge looks to in advocating for the pipeline - where China is the desired market.

The proposed project estimates sending 525,000 barrels per day to Kitimat from Alberta, crossing 11.5 square kilometres of forest — an area equivalent to 2,148 football fields.

Enbridge is not alone.
American oil giant Kinder Morgan also has plans for the Kitimat port, with hopes that its proposed TMX Northern Leg pipeline would bring 400,000 barrels per day to the Northwest.

And with the economic conditions of Canada and British Columbia suffering from the worst recession since the great depression, Enbridge believes it is important to understand their project through more than the environment alone.
Greenaway said that Enbridge provides a product that many people around the word depend on and that oil production provides life-blood to the Canadian economy.

“We believe we are doing that in a very responsible way. Are we perfect? No. But we are certainly working toward that and I think on balance most people would look at our record and think we are doing a good job at that,” said Greenaway. 

But economics also concern Rice. “Had the spill occurred here in Northern B.C along Enbridge’s proposed pipeline, the effects could have been catastrophic to the Skeena’s wild salmon economy, estimated to be worth over $100 million per year,” she said.

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