Since January 1, 2017 there have been more than 50 accidental releases from pipelines and oil and gas facilities in Alberta. These spills and leaks, ranging from large to small, from hazardous to non-hazardous, happen almost every single day.
Don’t believe it? You can check for yourself via the Alberta Energy Regulator’s incident reporting dashboard where spills are documented and information about volume, location and response is made available to the public.
In B.C., however, the provincial regulator’s pipeline incident reporting page has been offline for eight months (yes, you read that correctly).
DeSmog Canada has been reporting on the missing map since October and the issue was recently taken up by the Globe and Mail.
“In a province where the public debate over increased oil pipeline capacity has consumed so much energy, the lack of transparency about the province’s management of its existing system is surprising,” wrote Justine Hunter as politicians returned for the spring sitting at the legislature.
George Heyman, environment critic for the B.C. NDP, said getting the map back online should be a priority for the province.
“It’s shocking that the portal and the online incident report would be offline for such a significant amount of time,” Heyman told DeSmog Canada.
“This is an important mechanism for British Columbians to know if a spill has happened and to seek further information on how it might impact community health, whether the release be sour gas or crude oil.”
The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission describes its pipeline incident map as providing “timely, factual information on all pipeline incidents” to ensure “companies respond effectively and that the interests of British Columbians are protected through a 24/7, 365 day per year incident response program.”
The commission regulates more than 43,000 kilometres of pipeline in the province, 6,100 kilometres of which carry crude oil or natural gas.
In a summary report for the year 2015, the commission documented 45 pipeline incidents, indicating a slight increase in crude oil pipeline spills in recent years.
While there were three crude oil pipeline spills in 2011, there were six in 2012, four in 2013, seven in 2014 and seven in 2015. Spill volumes are not released in the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission’s annual summary reports.
A spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Natural Gas Development said the map is offline while a new system is put in place that includes “substantial improvements to the incident map.”
Companies are legally required to report spills to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and pipeline performance reports are released annually, the spokesperson added.
Heyman said that’s not enough to keep the public informed.
Screenshot of B.C.'s pipeline incident map webpage, October 2016.
Screenshot of B.C.'s pipeline incident map webpage, March 2017.
The problems don’t end with pipelines under provincial jurisdiction.
A 2013 CBC investigation found B.C. was home to the highest number of pipeline safety incidents for federally regulated pipelines managed by the National Energy Board between 2000 and 2013.
That investigation also found the rate of pipeline incidents nationally had doubled since the early 2000s.
“Not having this information available is disappointing especially in the context of major new pipelines proposed in B.C.,” Sophie Harrison, a campaign co-ordinator at B.C. democracy group Dogwood, told DeSmog Canada.
She said at the time the province approved the federally regulated Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline the B.C. government was insistent robust land-based spill response was in place.
“It’s hard to simply trust there’s world-leading pipeline spill response in B.C. if there isn’t real time data available to people in the province.”
“Not even having this basic level of accountability I think it speaks to the issue of public trust around the safety of pipelines in B.C.,” she said. “What we’re hearing from the B.C. government is, ‘oh just trust us.’ ”
Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC, said the current government has a problem with transparency.
“It speaks to the duplicity of a government that once promised to be the most open and transparent in Canada and has since proven to be the most secretive. It also speaks to a government that picks and chooses which laws apply to it, at its political convenience,” Travis told DeSmog Canada.
Travis pointed to the 2013 findings of Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham that B.C. failed to proactively disclose information regarding a risk of harm to the environment or public health. The commissioner found the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations withheld inspection reports from the public that showed the 80-year-old Testalinden Dam was near the end of its life and “a hazard to people and property downstream.”
“This isn't a one-off failure that could be blamed on technology,” Travis said. “This is a consistent — and seemingly intentional — failure.”
In some instances government disclosure is the public’s only means of information about pipeline spills.
In October 2016, the public learned of a large crude oil spill from a remote Alberta pipeline owned by Trilogy Energy Corp. only after the company reported the incident to the provincial regulator, which then posted (scant) information to its incident dashboard.
The company only learned of the spill after a routine helicopter inspection of the line.
B.C.’s existing pipeline infrastructure is aging, a problem some say will lead to increased incidents.
Heyman said all jurisdictions with aging pipeline infrastructure are vulnerable.
“That’s why online, real time reporting to the public is very important for releasing public information. We need to ensure the public knows what is happening so it can hold government and companies accountable,” Heyman said.
Phil Rygg, spokesperson for the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, told DeSmog Canada “the map is expected to be available online by March 31.” The commission previously stated the map would be back online at the end of 2016.
Image: Oil spill in Dalian, China. Photo: Peter Ma via Flickr cc 2.0