Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dr. Gerald Graham's Letter of Comment to Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel

Enbridge Northern Gateway's characterization of the risks of tanker spills associated with the marine transportation component of its project are so opaque that it begs the question as to whether a deliberate attempt is being made to conceal the true risks from the general public.

In the Marine Shipping Quantitative Risk Analysis ( QRA ) Enbridge submitted in support of its application for approval, terminology is used that even a highly educated lay person would find hard to understand. Thus, the QRA talks of “return periods” for spills, rather than probabilities, chances or odds. Similarly, it measures the amounts of oil potentially spilled in cubic meters ( m3 ) rather than barrels, which is the way most people think of oil spills, if they ever do think of them.

A case in point is Enbridge’s calculations for a “major” or “extremely large” spill which they define as a tanker spill of 40,000 m3 or greater ( >40,000 m3 ). The company estimates the return period for this category of spill, with return period basically defined as the period within which one can expect at least one such spill to occur, at roughly 15,000 years.

Applying a formula for converting return periods into probabilities that was developed by Professor Shane Rollans, a Mathematics professor, for Mr. Kelly Marsh, and relying on calculations that were made, using that formula, by Professor Shane Rollans and Dr. Tom Haslam-Jones, a tanker spill of >40,000 m3 with a return period of 15,000 years translates, in layman’s terms, into a .3% chance of at least one spill greater than c. 252,000 barrels occurring over the fifty year lifespan of the project. So, not much chance of that happening, if Northern Gateway’s estimates are accurate. For the record, that's about the same size spill as the Exxon Valdez incident in Alaska in 1989.

But the risks are significantly higher for some of the other spill ranges for which Enbridge provides calculations; for instance, spills <5000 m3, and spills >5000 m3. The estimated return periods for these types of spill are 570 and 550 years respectively. Put these into layman’s terms, and there is a 10.0% chance that at least one spill under 31,500 barrels will occur, plus an 8.7 % chance of at least one spill over 31,500 barrels. All told, there is an 18.1% chance that at least one spill of any size will occur.

Moreover, if the pipeline is expanded from the outset to 850,000 barrels per day capacity, as Enbridge has indicated it could be, up from the 525,000 barrels per day capacity that the company is currently applying for, then, et ceteris paribus, the chances that at least one spill <31,500 barrels and at least one spill >31,500 barrels will occur increase by sixty two percent each- to 16.2% and 14.1% respectively. That's as much as a one in six chance of at least one potentially significant size spill occurring. Plus, at that higher throughput, the chance of at least one spill of any size occurring rises to 29.3%.

This will seem like an acceptable level of risk to some observers, while others will view the marine transportation component of the project as little more than a crapshoot. At the very least, it undermines Enbridge's assertion that a tanker spill is "...very unlikely to occur", and a similar assertion by the President and CEO of the Pacific Pilotage Authority that the chances of such a spill are "...extremely small". And now, thanks to the work of Shane Rollans, Kelly Marsh, Tom Haslam-Jones and myself, a lay person should be in a better position to visualize these risks, before making an informed decision as to whether the project should go ahead. Because if the Joint Review Panel currently reviewing the application had only one factor it could consider in making a go/no go decision vis a vis this project, that factor would undoubtedly be risk; everything else is secondary.

Gerald Graham, Ph. D

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oral Statement to Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel by Dr. Gerald Graham

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada Community Hearing, January 7, 2013

Good evening. My name is Dr. Gerald Graham. I have firsthand knowledge of British Columbia’s North and Central Coasts, as well as Haida Gwaii. One of my qualifications to comment on this application is that I am a Canadian Coast Guard-trained On Scene Commander for marine oil spill response operations. I entered this field in 1989, following the Exxon Valdez and Nestucca oil spills when I served as a full-time, in-house consultant to the Tanker Safety Panel, which produced the so-called Brander-Smith report. That report led to the marine oil spill response regime which is still in place in Canada, under which the carrier of the oil, which in the case of Enbridge Northern Gateway would be the tanker owner rather than Enbridge itself, is basically responsible for oil spill cleanup operations and associated costs, with Coast Guard assuming a monitoring role, initially at least.

First off, allow me to remind the Panel that the project under review consists of three parts- two pipelines, a marine terminal, and marine transportation routes. That marine transportation routes are an integral part of the project is clearly set out in the definition of the project in the Terms of Reference for the review. These Terms of Reference are appended to the August 3, 2012 Joint Review Panel Agreement. Unfortunately, the Panel displays a disturbing tendency to omit the marine transportation component in various documents and statements issued by it, the most egregious example being the 5 May, 2011 Hearing Order itself. Another example was the Panel’s initial, July 22, 2011 proposal to overfly the pipeline route and facility sites, but apparently not the marine transportation routes.

Why, one might ask, does it matter that marine transportation routes fall under the Panel’s remit? It matters because the Applicant will undoubtedly try to persuade the Panel to defer to Transport Canada’s 2012 TERMPOL review, by which five federal agencies basically signed off on the marine component of the Northern Gateway proposal, saying in effect that it did not pose any regulatory hurdles. In support of its argument, the Applicant will also no doubt point out that the National Energy Board, which is co-sponsoring the Joint Review Panel’s current review of the project, has no authority over the marine components of it, responsibility for regulatory approval of these matters lying with other federal authorities, such as Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, etc.

Still, the Panel’s remit clearly requires it to conduct its own, separate, public review of the marine proposals. This undoubtedly represents a significant challenge for the Panel, since there seems to be little if any expertise on it with respect to marine transportation issues, on the West Coast at least. However, this knowledge gap is not a valid reason for the Panel to sidestep some highly technical and specialised issues that require analysis, such as tanker safety and environmental response. It bears mentioning as well that the TERMPOL report itself deferred to the Panel when it comes to whatever marine oil spill response terms and conditions might be attached to project approval. Moreover, the public fully expects the Panel to review the marine side of the project, and would no doubt be startled to discover that it had decided not to.

I am of the view that once the Panel has conducted its own review of marine component of the project, it will overrule the TERMPOL findings and find that this aspect of it is not in fact safe, leading to the recommendation that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project as a whole is not in the public interest. Several pieces of evidence lead me to this inescapable conclusion. For one thing, a crude oil tanker ban has been scrupulously observed in the Queen Charlotte Basin since 1972. Incidentally, the tanker ban goes hand in glove with the B.C. offshore oil and gas moratorium which I and others fought long and hard to maintain a decade ago. The B.C. government laughed at us then; however, since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf, they are no longer laughing. In fact, they now seem rather grateful to us!

Beyond the tanker ban, the main deficiency with the marine transportation component of Northern Gateway is that there is a significant risk of an accident occurring. Extrapolating from the Applicant’s own ‘return periods’, there is somewhere between an 8.7% and 14.1% chance of at least one tanker spill greater than 31,500 barrels occurring, depending on whether the pipeline has a 525,000 or 850,000 barrel per day capacity.

The Applicant’s concept of risk itself is also seriously deficient. A commonly accepted way of evaluating risk is to multiply the probability of an event by its possible consequences. Enbridge’s risk analysis examines spill probabilities, but leaves out consequences. The consequences of a major oil spill along B.C.’s North Coast, be it from a tanker or an oil rig, could be catastrophic and irreversible. Couple this potentially disastrous outcome with a one in seven chance of one or more major spills occurring, and the overall threat level posed by Northern Gateway becomes unacceptably high.

A Northern Gateway tanker incident could, for instance, result in potentially irreparable harm to Gwaii Haanas National Park and National Marine Conservation Area Reserves, which include a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as to Coastal First Nations communities and shellfish harvesting areas all along the tanker routes, plus commercial fishing interests and a burgeoning ecotourism sector. Marine mammals and marine birds- including diving birds, would be especially vulnerable to spilled oil. Adding to my concerns vis a vis this project are the overwhelming challenges the local environment would present to responders such as myself in the event of a catastrophic spill. The area’s isolation and remoteness, sinuous coastline, lack of ports, airports and other infrastructure, plus fierce storms, all mitigate against effective oil spill response operations, especially during winter months, when the days are short. What is more, the Applicant has singularly failed to stipulate in any detail how it would clean up after a bitumen spill, or how much of it would likely be recovered.

For these reasons, the Panel should recommend to the Government of Canada that Enbridge Northern Gateway not proceed. It is clearly in the long-term public interest of all of Canada to save this relatively pristine environment, the largest area of intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world, from the ravages of unchecked industrial development. Furthermore, it is the duty of the Government of Canada to protect the marine environment, recent program cuts notwithstanding.

The Panel has visited several communities along the proposed tanker routes, and also overflew portions of those routes. But to gain a true appreciation of the local marine environment, the Panel should go back to the area and explore it from boats, as I have, rather than from the air. Here are some personal suggestions for excursions:

1. Take a water taxi from Prince Rupert to Hartley Bay, via Grenville Channel;

2. Catch a glimpse of a Spirit Bear or two on Gribbell Island;

3. Visit the Gil Island whale research station;

4. Cruise the Inside Passage aboard an eco-adventure vessel. And finally,

5. Visit SKang Gwaii, that UNESCO World Heritage site I mentioned. It’s at the southern tip of Moresby Island, on Haida Gwaii.

Field trips like these would provide the Panel with a much deeper appreciation for this very special part of the world, and what is at stake if this project were to proceed.

Thank you.

Marine Transportation Component of Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Pre-approved

While the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel continues its exercise in auto-flagellation at the Community Hearings in Victoria, the fourth estate has tended to lose sight of the fact that the marine transportation component of the project has already been given the green light by virtue of last February's TERMPOL report, whereby five federal government departments basically signed off on this aspect of the project, saying there were no regulatory obstacles to its implementation.

Thus, how realistic is it to expect the Joint Review Panel, whose three members collectively possess no known knowledge or experience of tankers or marine oil spills, to overrule the TERMPOL experts?

What's more likely to happen is that the Panel continues its charade with the Community Hearings, Final Hearings and Final Arguments, before cloistering itself over the Summer to write its report, only to say that- you guessed it, the marine side of things was approved by TERMPOL, and far be it for the Panel to second guess those reviewers.

So, the current review process is little more than a sham- window dressing, in effect. It gives the unwitting public the false sense that they have some say on the fate of this project. Not that they had much faith to begin with, after Stephen Harper assumed veto power over the Panel when he issued his Edict of Worms in 2012, totally destroying any credibility his government might have had with respect to environmental assessment in the process.