Document shows feds flagged Enbridge project for inadequate oil spill response plan

By Mike De Souza, Postmedia News June 17, 2012

OTTAWA — Federal officials flagged safety concerns about Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project nearly two years ago, while warning that the Alberta-based proponent had an “insufficient” oil spill response plan along sensitive areas on its route from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, internal records reveal.The warnings were highlighted during a meeting by a team of environmental assessment experts from multiple government departments, including Natural Resources Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, Transport Canada and Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada.

A spokeswoman for Enbridge said an updated oil spill response plan, submitted in March 2011 to a panel reviewing the project, provides updated information that the government would not have known about at the time of the meeting.

But representatives from Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada, formerly known as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, expressed concerns that Enbridge gave “insufficient information on the general oil spill response plan and pipeline route through reserve lands,” said notes from the Nov. 25, 2010 meeting, released by the fisheries department through access to information legislation.

The teleconference came a few months after federal biologists expressed concerns that Enbridge was not making significant efforts to avoid “sensitive areas” along approximately 1,000 waterways crossed on the proposed route. One fisheries department scientist said that in some cases, Enbridge was “pushing for the cheapest option,” the Vancouver Sun and Postmedia News reported last week.

Representatives from all departments reached a “general consensus” at the November 2010 meeting that “Enbridge had not submitted enough information on the pipeline route,” noting that its proposed one kilometre corridor was too broad for an adequate evaluation of areas of concern.

Officials from Natural Resources Canada also expressed concerns at the meeting about “preliminary management and safety plans for (the) operation of (the) pipeline,” as well as a lack of information on the company’s land and water resource management plan. Environment Canada representatives also raised concerns that the company needed to do more research regarding wildlife potentially affected by the project.

The Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Affairs Department was not immediately able to say whether Enbridge had addressed all of its concerns.

The federal government also was warned in November 2010 that the courts could overrule the review process of the project because of “unreasonable” consultation with aboriginal communities.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty responded in its last budget by offering $13.6 million over two years to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to support consultations with aboriginal communities.

The Harper government, which had been heavily lobbied by Enbridge over concerns about DFO demands, tabled Fisheries Act amendments in its budget implementation legislation, bill C-38, in April.

Those changes, which according to critics would “gut” DFO’s ability to protect habitat, became a flashpoint in the opposition’s battle against C-38.

A spokesman from Natural Resources Canada, Paul Duchesne, said department specialists were doing their job prior to making formal information requests that the company responded to in October and November of 2011.

He said the department subsequently recommended, through a government submission to the review panel in December 2011, that Enbridge make commitments for “additional studies and considerations during detailed design and project implementation.” These requests must now be addressed by the panel.

“NRCan’s expert scientists, as well as those at Environment Canada, are dedicated to ensuring that Canadians’ interests are protected through the evaluation of rigorous mitigation plans to protect our environment in every review,” said Duchesne.

At a cost of about $7 billion, the Northern Gateway Pipeline would be nearly 1,200 km in length from Edmonton to Kitimat on the west coast of British Columbia. It would carry an average of 525,000 barrels of petroleum per day to the west, and an average of 193,000 barrels of condensate, used to thin petroleum products for pipeline transport, per day to the east.

The proposed pipeline, crossing through B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, would also benefit oilsands companies, opening the door to new markets in Asia, allowing them to sell their heavy oil at higher prices than they now get from U.S. markets. But internal records also have suggested that the shipping routes of oil tankers that would transport the oil from the coasts could threaten critical habitat of species such as humpback whales and fin whales.

Enbridge’s March 2011 oil spill response plan indicated that the company was meeting or exceeding Canadian standards and that further operational spill response plans would be completed six months before the commissioning of the project with appropriate details to support the “emergency response along the right-of-way of the pipeline and its shipping routes in Canadian waters.”

Enbridge’s director of corporate and business communications, Jennifer Varey, said that the company always has had an “aggressive emergency response” drill and training program with comprehensive plans in place to respond to spills.

She said the company also created a special cross-business response team in 2011 “to respond to large-scale events anywhere in North America that would require more resources that a single region, or business unit, could provide.

“All of the company’s operating facilities maintain regular contact with communities and first responder organizations to keep them up to date and co-ordinated with Enbridge’s operations and contingency plans,” she said. “In addition, Enbridge works closely with landowners, regulatory agencies and other concerned parties to develop remediation and monitoring plans.”

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