York University professors investigate issues surrounding proposed pipeline

Sean Kheraj

Sean Kheraj

Two York University professors from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies were commissioned by the City of Vancouver to contribute to the risk assessment submitted to the National Energy Board’s hearing on the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline extension.

The Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline runs 1,150 kilometres from around Edmonton, Alta. to Burnaby, B.C. Canadian and environmental history Professor Sean Kheraj reported the pipeline’s background from 1947 to 2013, including a study of past oil spills, while disaster and emergency management Professor David Etkin evaluated the Trans Mountain-Det Norske Veritas risk analysis of oil spills from tankers.

In his report, Historical Background Report: Trans Mountain Pipeline, 1947-2013, Kheraj writes that after large deposits of crude oil were discovered in 1947 in Leduc, Alberta, the pipeline was constructed between 1952 and 1953 to create foreign and domestic markets for the province.

“Trans Mountain also envisioned the pipeline serving a strategic defence purpose in the event of war with the Soviet Union,” he writes in the report.

Kheraj’s report also states that when pipeline construction was first approved, the public was not consulted and an environmental assessment was not conducted. He discovered that between 1961 and 2013, the average annual rate of oil spills was about 1.5.

David Etkin

David Etkin

On June 2, Kheraj spoke at the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa on the history of on-shore oil spills along inter-provincial and international oil pipelines in Canada since 1949.

“Oil pipeline spills have been a regular occurrence on Canada’s system of long-distance oil pipelines,” said Kheraj during his presentation. “In the 1970s, governments in both Canada and the United States passed regulatory changes in terms of environmental regulation, as well as public participation and engagement in policy development.”

He says, “No pipeline operator or regulator has found a system whereby either technological or through human means to prevent oil pipeline spills entirely.”

The expansion would increase the pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day. In the report, Low Probability High Consequence Events and the Risk of Oil Spills: An evaluation of the Trans Mountain-Det Norke Veritas Risk Analysis, Etkin looked at the risk of oil spills from tankers in support of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.

He writes that the oil company’s risk assessment “is flawed and significantly underestimates the real risk of an oil spill,” because they ignore a large range of possible spill events that, though rare, are potentially catastrophic and do not sufficiently consider the vulnerability of exposed communities and ecosystems.  Additionally, “Over the past few decades there have been significant decreases in spill frequencies due to the use of double hulled ships and improved technology,” but “as fleets age, empirical data shows increasing failures, so the documented trend towards fewer spills may shift in the future.”

Both reports are available on the City of Vancouver’s website.


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