Saturday, February 23, 2013

Enbridge Northern Gateway Tanker Spill Risk Calculations Discussed during Questioning Phase of Final Hearings

During Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel cross examination February 22, 2013, MP Nathan Cullen had a rather lengthy exchange with the Applicant about the way they present tanker spill risks in their Application. The relevant exchange takes place between lines 14356 and 14414 [Adobe pp. 119-124] in this transcript .

In the course of his cross examination, Mr. Cullen specifically mentioned Dr. Gerald Graham’s calculation of between an 8.7 and 14.1% chance of a spill greater than 31,500 barrels occurring. He also asked Enbridge Northern Gateway why, when calculating the chances of tanker spills occurring, they don't use ITOPF's classification system for tanker spills. Interestingly enough, Enbridge Northern Gateway itself cites the ITOPF system in its own evidence filed with the JRP, on Page 4-3 [Adobe P. 13] of this document: Section 3.8: Casualty Data Survey, TERMPOL Surveys and Studies, April 30, 2010 as follows:

"Another indicator of oil tanker performance is the number of oil spills recorded by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Ltd (ITOPF). ITOPF records oil spill data in the following three categories:

• Small spills less than 7 tonnes (≈10 m3).

• Medium spills of 7 to 700 tonnes (≈10 to 1,000 m3).

• Large spills greater than 700 tonnes."

Not surprisingly, Enbridge Northern Gateway’s responses to Mr. Cullen's enquiries were somewhat inconclusive. However, Mr. Cullen deserves credit for raising these issues before the Panel, and getting them on the official record.

If any Enbridge Northern Gateway Intervenor wishes to take this a step further, when the Applicant is cross examined in the course of the Shipping and Navigation Witness Panel ( which is expected to convene March 18, 2013 ) they could be asked, via an Undertaking, perhaps, to formally present their tanker spill risk calculations in terms of barrels ( the Application, for instance, refers to a pipeline with a capacity of 525,000 barrels per day- not 83,468.3298 m3! ) and probabilities, and to classify spill sizes the way ITOPF does. And even if they balk at these suggestions, if enough Intervenors raise the same issue, the Joint Review Panel itself might feel inclined or compelled to require Enbridge Northern Gateway to do so, under an Information Request, for instance.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Musings on Tanker Risks

The Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker project Marine Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) calculations are based on tanker casualties ( that's the lingo! ) over the course of X number of decades past. As the mutual fund ads warn, "past performance is no guarantee of future returns". Furthermore, NGP has already argued that because tanker safety has improved dramatically and steadily over the course of the past two decades, taking the average figure skews the results negatively against their project. In other words, they think their safety performance will be better than the predicted outcome. They have also argued that because the historical stats are global in nature, they reflect ( poor ) performance in parts of the world where standards are less rigorous than in countries such as Canada- in the areas of inspection and enforcement, for instance. For this reason as well, then, they would argue that the Canadian performance in future can be expected to be better than the world average in the past.

One of the problems with each of these caveats is that there is an unwritten assumption that things always improve, or are at least maintained at their current level. Deepwater Horizon taught us that this is not necessarily so. It's not exactly a straight line up- industry pressure, fierce competition, cost-cutting measures, etc. could lead to a relaxation of tanker standards and/or of enforcement, as well as a reduction in response capability. Also, Black Swan-type events have to be anticipated. Complacency can also set in after years without a 'catastrophic' tanker incident, leading, for instance, to a reduction in response capacity. Enbridge Northern Gateway has also argued that if oil is going to be transported by sea ( and on a worldwide basis the bulk of it is! ), then it's better to do it in Canada than in countries where laws and safety standards are not as strictly enforced. That's small consolation for the coastal communities of northern and central BC, I should think.

Another argument has been made ( by, among others, a retired provincial oil spill expert who happens to be working for one of the NGOs in opposition to NGP ), that if it’s a choice of transporting oil on either the north coast of BC or the south coast, then better to go north, because the tankers will generally speaking be bigger ( VLCCs, for example ), the theory being that bigger tankers means less transits, which translates into less risk. Of course, the counterargument to this is that bigger tankers means potentially more oil spilled in any given incident. In other words, that knife cuts both ways.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Turning the Tables on Northern Gateway

The best way to deep six the Enbridge Northern Gateway project currently undergoing federal environmental assessment is to focus on Table 8-8 of the Marine Shipping Quantitative Risk Analysis filed by Enbridge as part of its application currently before the NEB and CEAA. Within that Table there is one mitigated risk statistic that is so damning that it could stop the project in its tracks. That statistic claims that the return period for a spill greater than 5000 cubic metres is 550 years. Sounds innocuous enough- right? Not so fast, Buckwheat! Leaving aside the question as to what on earth a ‘return period’ is, it turns out that the statistic in question translates into somewhere between an 8.7 and 14.1% chance of one or more spills greater than 31,500 barrels of oil occurring over the fifty year lifespan of the project. If the pipeline capacity is 525,000 barrels per day, then the chance is 8.7%. If, on the other hand, as one suspects, the pipeline will instead be built to its maximum, expanded capacity of 850,000 barrels per day from the outset, then 14.1% is the magic number. Now, Enbridge does not classify tanker spills according to whether they are small, medium or large. However, the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) does, for statistical purposes, and it is noteworthy that they classify a large spill as being anything over 700 tonnes, or approximately 5131 barrels. In other words, by international standards a 31,500 barrel spill is a large spill indeed- roughly six times larger, in fact, than ITOPF's threshold for what constitutes a large spill. And with up to a 14.1% chance of at least one spill of this magnitude occurring from a Northern Gateway tanker, this project is little more than a game of Russian Roulette.

Why, one might ask, is this particular statistic so important? The answer is because the Joint Review Panel’s recommendation as to whether Northern Gateway should proceed is likely to turn on risk; all other considerations, however important they may be, are secondary. Also, as the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Thus, if it can be shown that one of three components of the project- the marine transportation component ( the other two being the pipeline and the marine terminal ), is too risky, then standard environmental practice dictates that the project should not proceed. To be more precise, if a proposed project could have significant adverse environmental effects, then it should not move forward- period, whatever the anticipated benefits! And who would doubt that a marine oil spill somewhere within the Project Area involving 31,500 barrels of oil could have significant adverse environmental effects? A spill of that magnitude could actually have catastrophic and irreversible effects, especially if it were to occur during the winter, say, in the middle of Hecate Strait, when cleanup would be next to impossible most of the time, and where wind and waves could whip the oil around, impacting hundreds if not thousands of miles of coastline in the aftermath of an incident.

Thus, a winning strategy for those opposed to the project on environmental grounds would be to cross-examine Enbridge on this particular point during the Questioning phase of the Hearings currently underway in Prince Rupert. The beauty of this approach is that it does not require the introduction of new evidence on the part of Intervenors in opposition to Northern Gateway. On the contrary, it relies on Northern Gateway’s own evidence, merely showing it in a different light. And for the record, the author has already drawn this particular risk calculation to the Joint Review Panel’s attention, first in his August 28, 2012 Letter of Comment, and more recently in his January 7, 2013 Oral Statement to the Panel in the course of the Community Hearings in Victoria. Furthermore, at least two other people who made Oral Statements at the Community Hearings quoted this statistic from the author’s Victoria presentation, one in Vancouver and one in Kelowna. But not only is the Panel fully aware of this statistic; the proponent itself had one or more representatives present at the Community Hearings.

So, anyone who does challenge Northern Gateway on this risk calculation during cross-examination in Prince Rupert is free to cite the statistical calculation the author came up with through persistent digging. If you do mention it, feel free to cite this Letter of Comment, as well as this Oral Statement. If the Panel itself had any credibility, it would have already asked Northern Gateway for its views on this statistical interpretation, just as it has on other points and statistics raised during the Hearings. Northern Gateway should be asked, for example, whether they consider a 14.1% chance of what by any standards would be a major oil spill occurring as a result of tanker shipments represents an acceptable level of risk, from their standpoint. And the Panel itself has little choice but to pass judgment on the same statistical probability in its Final Report, due by the end of 2013. Ditto for the Government of Canada, which will make the ultimate decision as to whether this project should proceed, unless of course the proponent itself sees the light and walks away from it, approval or no approval.

Lastly, Intervenors in opposition to Northern Gateway should get the Panel to require the Applicant to calculate the chances of spills for each of ITOPF's three spill size categories:

-Small spills less than 7 tonnes (≈10 m3);

-Medium spills of 7 to 700 tonnes (≈10 to 1,000 m3);

-Large spills greater than 700 tonnes.

For the record, the author's recent critique of the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal is the subject of several press articles, including these two in particular:

1) “Tankers too risky on B.C.’s North Coast, oil-spill consultant says”, Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun, January 12, 2013;

2) “A significant risk”, Leslie Campbell, Focus, February, 2013, pp. 4,5.