TransCanada Corp.: A weak record on the environment and accountability

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TransCanada has already had large spills, explosions, and other disasters with its pipelines. In February 2014, the CBC reported on instances where the company had been severely reprimanded by the federal regulator for “inadequate” field inspections and “ineffective” management.

An audit of TransCanada which began in November 2012 found the energy giant was non-compliant in four of nine areas reviewed. The National Energy Board fast-tracked the audit after a whistleblower complained to the regulator of substandard welding and inspection practices within the company.

The audit found instances of non-compliance in four categories: hazard identification, risk assessment and control; operational control – upset or abnormal operating conditions; inspection, measurement and monitoring; and management review. “The board notes that a number of the allegations of regulatory non-compliance were identified and addressed by TransCanada only after the complainant’s allegations were made and were not proactively identified by the company’s management system,” the energy board noted.

The audit also confirmed that the whistleblower, an engineer then working for TransCanada, had first approached senior management about his safety concerns before going to the regulator.

A partnership rife with risk

In April 2015 the international news service Reuters reported on the safety record of Irving Oil, a partner in TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline project. Irving Oil is poised to build and operate the sole Atlantic export terminal for the project.

Through a Right to Information Act request, Reuters uncovered that Irving Oil has logged at least 19 accidents classified by regulators as “environmental emergencies” at its existing facilities in eastern Canada since 2012, including three that drew warnings for delayed reporting.

According to the documents, Irving Oil’s 300,000 barrel per day refinery and its associated storage terminals in Saint John have had environmental emergencies ranging from petroleum spills as big as 3,000 barrels, to smaller incidents such as refinery emissions of sulfur dioxide exceeding permitted levels.

In one case in 2013, New Brunswick’s Department of the Environment issued Irving a formal warning for taking more than a full day to report a storage tank leak of about 132 gallons of crude at its Canaport facility on the Bay of Fundy, near the site Irving is planning its terminal for Energy East.

In back-to-back accidents a year earlier, Irving was reprimanded by regulators for failing to immediately report a release of toxic sulfur dioxide gas from the refinery, and a spill of crude oil at its rail facility near a residential zone in Saint John.

“The Department considers both of these incidents environmental emergencies, although environmental emergency reporting procedures were not followed,” the regulators wrote in one of the letters reviewed by Reuters.

The largest spill during the period occurred in April 2014 when as much as 3,000 barrels poured out of an overfilled Irving storage tank – enough to fill a fuel tanker truck. After that spill, Irving was required to implement new procedures for tank loading, and adjust training for staff.