Kinder MorganThere’s been a lot written about last weeks ‘War of the rosés’ but one of the things that has been missed in that conversation is the science (or lack thereof) that preceded it all.

Two years before Kinder Morgan was ever approved an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada issued a report on what was needed to be able to safely transport crude oil, including both bitumen and diluted bitumen. Prominent scientist and Killam Memorial Chair, Dr. David Schindler recently wrote about their findings in an editorial he wrote for the Edmonton Journal. “They found that we knew surprisingly little of what was necessary to safely transport these materials, and to mitigate the damage from the inevitable spills.”

Here’s some of the high-priority research needs identified by the Expert Panel:

High-Priority Research Needs Identified by the Expert Panel

  1. Research is needed to better understand the environmental impact of spilled crude oil in high-risk and poorly understood areas, such as Arctic waters, the deep ocean and shores or inland rivers and wetlands.
  2. Research is needed to increase the understanding of effects of oil spills on aquatic life and wildlife at the population, community and ecosystem levels.
  3. A national, priority-directed program of baseline research and monitoring is needed to develop an understanding of the environmental and ecological characteristics of areas that may be affected by oil spills in the future and to identify any unique sensitivity to oil effects.
  4. A program of controlled field research is needed to better understand spill behaviour and effects across a spectrum of crude oil types in different ecosystems and conditions.
  5. Research is needed to investigate the efficacy of spill responses and to take full advantage of “spills of opportunity.”
  6. Research is needed to improve spill prevention and develop/apply response decision support systems to ensure sound response decisions and effectiveness.
  7. Research is needed to update and refine risk assessment protocols for oil spills in Canada.

Royal Society Report

These high-priority research needs were not met before Kinder Morgan was approved and remain unmet today.

One of the most glaring gaps is the absence of any significant research on the effects of bitumen spills – heavy oil from the tar sands – into ocean environments.  The gap was so wide a group of scientists from Canada and the United States wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau about their findings on November 21st, 2017 and urged him to delay his decision. The Prime Minister ignored their warnings and days later the Kinder Morgan pipeline was green lit by the Federal government.

The intra-provincial pipeline battle we are seeing today is a mess of Trudeau’s own making.

Rather then wait and decide Kinder Morgan’s fate with sound science and a new review process, Trudeau rushed the decision for political expediency. It’s that mistake that Premier Horgan is trying to rectify and he’s not alone in his concern.

Recently, the Washington State Senate voted in favour of a bill that would increase taxes on pipeline companies to deal with pipeline spills, and would require the Department of Ecology to develop specific strategies to deal with tar sands spills among others. Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, the primary sponsor of the legislation, put the bills main concern succinctly, ““Right now, we have no ability to respond to a tar sands oil spill.”

California is also looking at specific legislation to deal with the unique, and unknown, threats posed by tar sands shipments. Recently they suggested very similar legislation to what Premier Horgan is now putting forward.

The point is Horgan is not alone. Right down the coast there are concerns and unanswered questions when it comes to bitumen. 

Finally, it’s important to remember that it’s not just B.C. and the west coast states that have raised questions about the safety of Alberta’s pipelines and what comes through them. In 2013, then MLA Rachel Notley wrote to the Auditor General of Alberta, Merwan Saher asking for a more comprehensive audit of Alberta’s pipeline system, which averages around two spills every day.

Notley requested a pipeline audit that included: quality of regulations (including leak detection systems), consistency of the application of regulations, inspection frequency and quality (completed by parties independent from industry), frequency and severity of penalties, follow-up on orders to ensure compliance, quality of accident investigation, the frequency and severity of penalties imposed as a result of accidents and subsequent investigation, and overall quality of government’s awareness of pipeline integrity. 

That comprehensive audit was never done and no dramatic improvements were ever made.

For Notley though, it appears that her concerns about pipeline safety and the need for more science evaporated the moment she got elected. Fortunately for all of us John Horgan’s did not.

Protect the Coast