The hefty public relations beating that Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. has taken over a series of oil pipeline leaks over the last few years has jeopardized the future of its Northern Gateway pipeline to Canada’s West Coast.
The latest incident — this time a 1,200-barrel leak in a Wisconsin field on Friday — comes two years after a ruptured Enbridge line dumped an estimated three million litres of tar sands crude into the Talmadge Creek in Michigan, which flows into the Kalamazoo River.
As the Globe and Mail reported yesterday, the company said it would replace part of the Wisconsin pipeline on Monday, although the company was still unable to say when Line 14, which carries 318,000 barrels a day would resume service.
While this latest spill caused only minor damage, in this case blackening a small field, it comes at a particularly inopportune time for the company, which is seeking approval for the $6-billion Northern Gateway pipeline in the midst of significant opposition from environmental and First Nation groups.
Last week, B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced that the province won’t support the $6-billion Enbridge project until five environmental and fiscal conditions are met, including B.C. getting a much larger share of economic benefits such as resource royalties or other tax revenue.
While the Alberta and B.C. premiers have been left to haggle over the pipeline’s construction — it’s mostly about revenue sharing and politics, not out of environmental concern in our opinion — environmentalists and First Nations groups say placing a pipeline through pristine territory along the western coast is a disaster waiting to happen.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for our premier to play a game of ‘The Price Is Right’ while putting our lands, our waters and our futures at risk to devastating oil spills,” Terry Teegee, tribal chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, told the Vancouver Sun.
“This is our lives, the well-being of our families that she is playing with. We won’t let her sell our lands out from under us.”
The Financial Post notes that Canada is the largest source of foreign crude for the United States, supplying more than 2.4 million barrels per day of the more than 8.3 million imported by that nation on average in July. Enbridge’s lines, the world’s largest crude oil pipeline system, carry the lion’s share of those shipments.
To its credit, Enbridge has a long line of glowing accolades. It has been consistently named one of Canada’s top 100 employers and ironically this year and for the third year in a row, it earned the title of one of Canada’s Greenest Employers.
The big question here is, should a few high-profile pipeline leaks damage Enbridge’s reputation to the point where it scuttles a multi-billion-dollar pipeline investment? Perhaps not on their own, but these recent leaks are hardly isolated incidents.
In an extensively sourced article in the spring edition of the Watershed Sentinel journal, writer Joyce Nelson reported that between 2000 and 2010, Enbridge experienced at least 720 oil leaks and spill at sites across Canada and the United States, for a combined total of 132,715 barrels of leaked crude.
While it would be unfair to simply single out Enbridge for such oil leaks — Trans Canada pipelines has had its fair share of leaks and spills as well — it’s impossible to ignore a growing anger over how the company’s oil and gas pipelines are operated.
Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board issued a scathing report of Enbridge’s handling of the disastrous 2010 Michigan leak. The cleanup of that spill is ongoing, although the price tag has already hit $800 million — considered the most expensive onshore cleanup in U.S. history.
According to the NTSB, there was a complete breakdown of company safety measures and likened the conduct of Enbridge company employees to that of “Keystone Kops” as they finally tried to contain it, 17 hours after it first ruptured.
Given this fact, environmental groups have valid concerns over Enbridge’s record for handling pipeline leaks. These issues need to be addressed and solved before B.C. coastline is unnecessarily put at risk.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 31, 2012