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Enbridge reports fourth leak along Norman Wells pipeline
NEB ordering engineering assessment

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, March 30, 2013

A fourth leak discovered along the Enbridge Pipeline in a two-month period has sparked the National Energy Board to order an engineering assessment. With nearly 1,000 cubic metres of oil spilled from the pipeline since February 2011, the Dehcho grand chief is calling for the line to be replaced.

NNSL photo/graphic

Contaminated soil was found at two sites along the Norman Wells pipeline the week of Feb. 4. Workers have excavated about 30 cubic metres of soil at the first site, which is about 60 kilometres west of Fort Simpson. - photo courtesy of Enbridge

The National Energy Board has ordered Enbridge Pipeline Inc. to perform an engineering assessment on the Wrigley to Mackenzie section of the Norman Wells pipeline.

The order came after Enbridge reported another leak on March 19. It is the fourth reported leak since the beginning of February.

NEB spokesperson Rebecca Taylor said the assessment is part of a special order issued by the board.

“The board remains concerned about the recent discoveries of small leak sites on Line 21,” she said. “That’s why the board has issued the amending order to Enbridge and required them to take additional action.”

The order requires an engineering assessment, due by June 30, and an assessment of the company’s leak detection methods, which is due on April 5. The assessment will evaluate “the fitness-for-service of the line Section from a leak-dependent perspective,” the order stated

The order was addressed to Enbridge’s president and chief executive officer, Al Monaco, and was signed by NEB Secretary Sheri Young.

The leaks are all in the same section of pipeline as the large leak that took place near Wrigley in 2011, the order also stated.

In May 2011, hunters near the Willowlake River found a pool of oil in the forest, which turned out to be 1,500 barrels worth of crude oil that had seeped from the pipeline.

About 900 cubic metres of soil was contaminated as a result, said Enbridge spokesperson Graham White.

The most recent leaks are much smaller, White said.

Leaks on March 14 and March 18 each resulted in about 30 cubic metres of contaminated soil.

The soil has been excavated and Enbridge is now monitoring the area, White said.

Documents from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources NWT-NU Spill Line show that in addition to the leaks, Enbridge also reported improperly storing contaminated soil during the clean up of the March 14 incident.

The report stated that hydrovac slurry from the clean up was accidentally stored in an unlined storage area. On March 21, the area was cleaned and material was transported to a specialized disposal site in Fort Nelson, B.C.

In addition to an investigation by the Transportation Safety Board, the company is also performing its own investigation to determine the cause of the leaks. White said it is not yet known if the causes are related.

“It’s possible that it’s a similar cause for each one, since they seem to be so similar in terms of their levels of contamination and the quantity that they release,” he said. “But we’ll also have to be open to all possibilities and options, for example, that it could be a different cause for each one.”

Repair sleeves were installed at both leak sites.

Pipeline worries residents

Herb Norwegian, Dehcho First Nations grand chief, said putting sleeves on the pipeline is only a quick fix.

“It’s gotten to the point now where they’re taking this band aid approach and putting a band aid on this garden hose that’s not fit to deal with the environment,” he said. “Putting these patches is not good enough. They have to deal with the bigger problem.”

Norwegian was the vice president of the Dene First Nation during the pipeline project’s community consultation process before its construction in the early 1980s.

He said at the time, Enbridge representatives assured communities portions of the pipeline would be replaced if necessary.

Norwegian said he believes that time has come.

“We need to actually call for the replacement of the entire line and put something better in there because this is too dangerous,” he said. “We’re going to be dealing with something serious later on if we don’t deal with the problem.”

Norwegian said technology has improved since the pipeline’s construction.

“There is better material out there for pipes. The technology is incredible,” he said. “There is no need for them to continue to do these patch jobs. It’s not worth it in the long run.”

Norwegian said he and others are worried about what would happen if a significant leak took place near water, such as the Mackenzie River.

“Three or four leaks – that’s just he beginning of it,” he said. “At some point we’re going to be dealing with catastrophes.”

Norwegian also said he believes environmental legislation should be improved to ensure companies follow best environmental practices.

“They can’t continue to keep these doors open,” he said. “They’re just as responsible as the corporations.”

White said the pipeline is still considered young by industry standards.

“In terms of pipelines, and we’re talking about steel transmission pipelines, which is what this line is, it’s not old,” White said.

He also said the company performs extra monitoring to help protect the environment.

“The factor with this pipe that is very important to consider is the highly sensitive environment that it’s in,” he said. “For us that’s the special consideration of this pipe and it’s one of the reasons we are doing such extensive integrity work.”

But Norwegian said recent leaks mean monitoring programs aren’t working they way they should.

“If they had the technology, they should have detected it – but they didn’t,” he said.

White said the pipeline’s control centre did not detect the recent leaks. Instead, inspection tools, which monitor the inside of the pipeline, identified the area as a concern and staff performed an on-site inspection.

“That’s why we need to conduct a thorough investigation to determine how the product was able to get outside of the line,” he said.

White said Enbridge will co-operate with the order issued by the NEB and is continuing to monitor the sites.

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