Quantcast
Energy

TransCanada Whistleblower’s Evidence Ignored, Keystone XL South Rushed Into Operation

By Julie Dermansky 

Pipeline safety regulators in North America have done nothing but write warning letters to TransCanada in the two years since former employee Evan Vokes revealed evidence indicating the company had been breaking the rules.

A recently released report by the Canadian National Energy Board on TransCanada's integrity management programs stated: "There are areas where the company was found to be out of compliance." The board gave TransCanada 30 days to come up with a plan to fix things internally.

Former TransCanada employee Evan Vokes at a pipeline construction site in Texas. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

In response, Vokes released a statement through the advocacy group, Public Citizen stating:

“The Canadian government's audit criticizing TransCanada’s failings is a start, but leaves numerous safety concerns unaddressed. An audit based on paper and interviews only cannot catch non-compliance in the field. In my experience, TransCanada’s management failings are systemic and won’t be fixed simply by reviewing what TransCanada says its policies are on paper. These kind of reviews have not fixed the problem in the past and they aren’t sufficient now. Time and again, TransCanada’s internal and third-party audit systems have failed to catch the repeated substandard practice of engineering in the construction and maintenance of its pipelines. Unless regulators in Canada and the United States step up to the plate to ensure compliance in the field, future ruptures and risks to Americans are inevitable.”

The Canadian Senate held hearings in 2013 about the transport of hazardous materials after Vokes went to the media with what he said was proof that TransCanada was breaking the law. During the hearings the National Energy board testified they had verified much of the evidence Vokes provided.

The Senate’s report cites the National Energy Board's conclusion that TransCanada's incidents of non-compliance do not represent immediate threats to the safety of people or the environment. The report notes the board advanced its previously scheduled audit of TransCanada to include the specific concerns raised by Vokes, but recommends no further action.

"The lack of accountability with regulators is appalling," Vokes told DeSmogBlog. Vokes says he came forward because the oath he took to become an engineer requires him to put public safety first.

During the Senate hearings he stated that it’s amazing there aren’t more accidents. “There are thousands of cracks in the system; it is just a matter of which ones will become the problem. It is low probability and high consequence.”

While the National Energy Board conducted its audit of TransCanada, the southern route of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline was completed and put into operation, to the chagrin of American landowners still fighting against the pipeline and activist groups who called for further testing.

Coating repair on the Keystone XL's southern route at an anomaly dig site in Texas. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Last April, when Texas landowners discovered repair work being done on the pipeline, TransCanada stated it was fixing anomalies (the industry's term for defects). Anomalies are the result of construction problems. TransCanada would not disclose how many anomalies were found.

Public Citizen reported it spotted 125 dig sites. TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard stated in an e-mail to Truthout: “The number and location (of anomalies) ultimately don’t matter. What matters is that we are doing what is necessary to improve pipeline integrity."

A section of the Keystone XL's southern route dug up in Texas. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Vokes doesn't agree. He wonders why inspectors didn’t prevent the mistakes in the first place.

Vokes visited Texas to check out the situation first hand. He reviewed photos taken by activists, journalists and landowners of the installation and repair sites, then contacted pipeline regulators in the U.S.—including Bill Lowry, who is responsible for community assistance and technical services for the Southwest region. Vokes raised an alarm with Lowry after the 125 repair sites were discovered.

In emails sent to Lowry, Vokes states: "The quality illustrated in the photographs that the landowners and activists were collecting were certainly not within the scope of any quality plan a competent engineer would write."  

After Lowry made a statement to DeSmogBlog that he would not choose to live next to a pipeline, Vokes concluded, "The pictures I saw might explain why a PHMSA employee will not live next to the facilities he is responsible for."

In September, U.S. regulators sent warning letters to TransCanada about their inspections done months earlier. Despite citing code violations, no corrective measures were ordered, nor have fines been levied.

Eleanor Fairchild on the easement where TransCanada installed the Keystone XL pipeline on her land. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

The letters alarmed Texas landowner Eleanor Fairchild, a concerned citizen labeled an eco-terrorist by TransCanada after standing in front of a tractor on her land in an attempt to prevent the pipeline's installation.

Fairchild requested a meeting with Bill Lowry to discuss her concerns. Lowry told her he'd look at photos and video if she would email him but couldn't meet with her individually. Fairchild doesn't use a computer and likes to look people in the eye when she talks to them, so she never got her answers from him. Vokes, aware of the situation, wrote to Lowry to remind him of his duty as a professional engineer to protect people like Fairchild.

At a pipeline safety meeting in New Orleans, I asked Mr. Lowry about his thoughts on Evan Vokes' concerns:

Kathy DaSilva, a member of the group Tar Sands Blockade filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in October, requesting inspection reports made during installation of Keystone XL's southern portion. More than three months later, she received a package with 35 reports. She expected 150, the number of days the agency says it spent inspecting the pipeline.

DeSmogBlog inquired about the discrepancy between the number of reports released and the number of days the agency stated it spent inspecting the pipeline. 

Damon Hill, PHMSA public affairs specialist, answered by e-mail:

"PHMSA provided records that related to the dates included in Ms. DaSilva’s request that were available at the time the request was processed. You should also understand that the daily construction inspection reports are more inspector “notes” than actual “reports” that are used “in part” by our inspectors to compile a “full final inspection report.” A final inspection report will discuss any issues observed by PHMSA during the period of inspection, including possible issues of operator non-compliance, and will provide details regarding these issues and any enforcement actions taken against an operator, including Warning Letters.”

Hill didn’t respond to DeSmogBlog when asked when the rest of the inspection reports will become available. Nor would he offer any clarification as to why the inspections mentioned in a warning letter sent to TransCanada on Sept.10, 2013 were not included in the released documents.

When Vokes reviewed the reports, he was struck more by what wasn't in them than by what was. Two reports cite inspections that didn't take place because inspectors were warned activists might be present. Since the regulatory agency says the inspection reports are not all complete, it is impossible to get a clear picture of the inspection process of the project.

Kathy DaSilva (second from right) at a pipeline safety conference in New Orleans. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

DaSilva questions why the inspection reports weren’t finished when their Freedom of Information Act request was sent on Jan. 28. She finds it troubling that the pipeline was put into operation before the reports were completed.

Last year, InsideClimate News reported that PHMSA Associate Administrator for Pipeline Safety Jeffrey Wiese said the regulatory process he oversees is "kind of dying."

Are regulators whitewashing TransCanada's performance record by not making incident and inspection reports available to the public or the press? Or are they limited in their ability to regulate?

As the public comment period on Keystone XL’s northern route closed last week, the pipeline's climate change impact is not all that President Obama must consider—given the problems on the southern portion and the gaps in the regulatory regime, how sure can the President be that the oil will actually stay in the pipeline?

Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL page for more related news on this topic.

 

Show Comments ()
Sponsored

Dr. Michael Mann on Extreme Weather: 'We Predicted This Long Ago'

You can't go far in the climate movement without hearing the name of Dr. Michael E. Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University and author of The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars and, more recently, The Madhouse Effect.

Dr. Mann came to public attention back in 1998 when he and two colleagues published the landmark MBH98 paper documenting average global temperatures across the centuries with a line graph whose steep uptick in recent years earned it the name "the hockey stick." The paper—with its inconvenient truth about the consequences of fossil fuels—made him a target for climate deniers, but Dr. Mann refused to be silenced and has become one of America's leading public voices for a scientific and rational approach to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
The Dutch Weed Burger is made from three types of algae. The Dutch Weed Burger

How Marine Algae Could Help Feed the World

By William Moomaw and Asaf Tzachor

Our planet faces a growing food crisis. According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people are regularly undernourished. By 2050, an additional 2 to 3 billion new guests will join the planetary dinner table.

Meeting this challenge involves not only providing sufficient calories for every person, but also assuring a balanced diet that includes the protein and nutrients that are essential to good health. In a newly published study, we explain how marine microalgae could be a sustainable solution for solving global macro-hunger.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A Bureau of Land Management contractor's helicopter forces a wild horse into a trap during the recent roundup at the Salt Wells Creek. Steve Paige

Brutal Outlook for Healthy Wild Horses and Burros: BLM Calls for Shooting 90,000

On Thursday, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recklessly voted to approve recommendations that call on the Bureau of Land Management to shoot tens of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros.

At its meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado, the advisory board recommended that BLM achieve its on-range population goal of 26,715 wild horses and burros while also phasing out the use of long-term holding facilities—both within three years.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
www.youtube.com

‘Geostorm’ Movie and Climate Hacking: Are the Dangers Real?

By Jane A. Flegal and Andrew Maynard

Hollywood's latest disaster flick, "Geostorm," is premised on the idea that humans have figured out how to control the earth's climate. A powerful satellite-based technology allows users to fine-tune the weather, overcoming the ravages of climate change. Everyone, everywhere can quite literally "have a nice day," until—spoiler alert!—things do not go as planned.

Admittedly, the movie is a fantasy set in a deeply unrealistic near-future. But coming on the heels of one of the most extreme hurricane seasons in recent history, it's tempting to imagine a world where we could regulate the weather.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. Wikimedia Commons

GOP-Controlled Senate Paves Way for Oil Drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Senate Republicans' narrow passage of the 2018 budget plan on Thursday opened the door for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR).

But Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups criticized the GOP for sneaking the "backdoor drilling provision" through the budget process. Past proposals to drill in the refuge have consistently failed.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
iStock

Corporate Fleets Making the Switch to Electric Vehicles

By Gina Coplon-Newfield and Sung-Jae Park

Recently, 10 major transnational corporations launched EV100, a new global initiative to slash emissions by increasing the number of corporate fleet electric vehicles (EV) on the road. EV100 companies, including Ikea, Unilever and HP, are committing to, by 2030, integrate EVs into their owned or leased fleets and install EV charging stations for customers and employees.

The full initial list of companies, many of which operate many thousands of fleet vehicles, includes: Baidu, Deutsche Post DHL Group, Heathrow Airport, HP Inc., IKEA Group, LeasePlan, METRO AG, PG&E, Unilever and Vattenfall. Vattenfall, the Swedish power company that serves most of Europe, intends to meet the campaign's commitments, and then some. "Replacing our whole 3,500 car fleet with EV in the coming five years, working with our customers to deploy charging infrastructure, and building northern Europe's biggest connected charging network, are three examples of actions we are taking to promote a sustainable and climate smarter living for customers and citizens," Magnus Hall, CEO of Vattenfall, said.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
www.youtube.com

Losses From California Wildfires Top $1 Billion, Expected to Rise 'Dramatically'

Insured losses from fires in Northern California have topped $1 billion and are expected to rise "dramatically," state insurance officials announced Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights
Damage from Hurricane Maria. La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

Puerto Rico's Revival Depends on Empowering Small-Scale Farmers

Reporting by Saulo Araujo

Houses without roofs and trees without leaves is all the eyes could see in the week following the devastation that Hurricane Maria wrought. The Category 5 storm with 150+ miles per hour winds was the strongest to hit the island in over a century, leaving the entire population without water and power. Weeks later 3 million people are still without electricity.

Up in the mountains, small-scale farmers lost their crops, and their ability to feed their families was abruptly leveled. La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica (Boricuá) a grassroots organization of more than 100 families made up of small-scale farmers, farmworkers and organizers across Puerto Rico and the islands of Vieques & Culebra, continues working to communicate with their members in rural areas and to assess the damages. Boricua has made great progress in the last three decades to organize and support farmers, facilitate farmer-to-farmer trainings, and build solidarity nationally and globally. They are helping to fuel agroecology on the island, bringing locally grown, nutritious food to their communities and to market.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox