PART 4: New technologies for monitoring spills may not be enough
Kent also explained the reason for these cuts, “It is a case of contemporizing. New technologies, digital technologies both in terms of voice communications, but in terms of satellite transmission, of real-time video, real-time scientific data of weather patterns, of wind and water currents, allow us to work from centralized highly technical support headquarters and to provide that support service.” But the question remains how there can be real-time on the ground help at the local level when disasters are happening a few thousand miles away from control headquarters. It is blatantly unrealistic and dangerous.
Lemphers agrees. “Take a look at the Enbridge pipeline spill that happened in Michigan. It took them 12 hours to detect the leak and 6 hours to respond and they spilled 20,000 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River. Or you can look at the Rainbow pipeline that spilled 35,000 barrels of oil into a wetland in Northern Alberta. The spill was more contained than the Kalamazoo River but even though it was larger, it was easier to clean up. But it is still difficult to predict where a pipeline will leak. Certainly pipeline companies have been improving their ability to monitor the integrity of their pipelines that is helping to prevent spills. But at the same time, you are seeing more pipelines and more oil flowing through the pipelines so any sort of incremental improvements in pipeline integrity may be diminished by the absolute increase in spills and oil production. You do need both; control headquarters and more manpower on the ground.”
Lemphers also expresses concern about pipelines going through wilderness areas like that of BC if the Northern Gateway pipeline gets built. “When you look at the Enbridge pipeline going through remote areas of Northwestern BC, it is more tenuous when there are extreme weather events. This will make it more difficult for personnel to respond quickly. Avalanches, rock land slides, river flooding, earthquakes on the west coast, may all affect the pipeline.”
Future still uncertain for Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipeline projects
Although TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has been approved in Canada by the federal government, it is still a waiting game in the U.S. until there is Presidential Approval on its northern section that may come after the U.S. election. Lemphers believes that getting both the northern section of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Northern Gateway project approved may not be so easy. “There is still considerable opposition in the US so simply rerouting the pipeline will not necessarily allay any of the concerns for Americans. Respect to Gateway, this pipeline is facing considerable opposition from First Nations and people across the country. It will be challenging for Enbridge to implement this pipeline against the wishes of Canadians. It’s also difficult to know when it will be approved since the federal government is changing the rules of the game half way through. What still remains are the opportunities for legal action by concerned groups and individuals or by the province of BC.”
Governments can do more to help especially regarding a price on carbon as the oilsands projects increase. “You’re seeing even fossil fuel companies pushing for a price on carbon. TransAlta pulled out of a carbon capture project because there isn’t a high enough price on carbon. Even some fossil fuel companies are advocating for improved climate policies and a better price on carbon in the country yet we are not seeing the federal government respond. It’s a price on carbon period because there is none regarding the feds.”
Only time will tell if both the TransCanada Keystone XL and Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines will be completed. Meanwhile, the balancing act between the old regime fossil fuel energy generation and new upstart companies promoting alternative energy generation continues. Regardless of competition in the energy sectors, the world needs adequate energy to supply a demanding world population and Alberta, Canada is playing a major role.