Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Canadian regulator secretly ordered gas companies to reduce gas flow

OTTAWA - Safety concerns about potential ruptures along two major oil and gas routes prompted Canadian regulators to order the operators to reduce pressure on the pipelines travelling underground through some of the largest cities in western and central Canada.

The orders from the National Energy Board were never made public and came in the aftermath of a major Enbridge crude oil pipeline rupture and spill in Michigan last summer, as well as a series of leaks and spills in Quebec and Ontario along the route of a gasoline pipeline owned by Trans-Northern Pipelines. The latter pipeline brings jet fuel to Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, as well as gasoline to service stations in Ottawa, Kingston and the Toronto region.

Three months after the Enbridge accident in Michigan, the National Energy Board, which was monitoring the U.S. investigation, quietly ordered a 20 percent pressure reduction on Enbridge's Line 2 Canadian pipeline, which links Edmonton to Superior, Wis., along sections that contained pre-1970s flash-welded pipe.

"The Board had noted a correlation between these sections and 'cracking related incidents' on Enbridge's Canadian system," said a federal report from October, released by Natural Resources Canada through access to information legislation.

"The Board has given Enbridge two months to provide an up-to-date integrity status report on cracking on its system; four months to re-analyze its cracking inspections, do integrity inspections and file an independent report."

The document, obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin, also said the Alberta-based company would be required to file short-term and long-term integrity improvement plans and would not be allowed to increase the pressure in its system without permission from the board.

National Energy Board spokeswoman Carole Leger-Kubeczek confirmed that the order to reduce pressure was still in effect since the regulator had found that the company's "hazard identification practices" were not consistently reliable. She said that Enbridge would not be allowed to return to full operations until it demonstrated "the adequacy and effectiveness of its programs in preventing cracking incidents from occurring."

She said the information about the board's orders would have been made public to anyone who made a specific inquiry, but that it was not posted because” the board did not have adequate resources to publish these types of decisions on its website.”

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