Some key points from the reports concerning TransCanada Pipelines, The Keystone project and ex-TCPL professional engineer Evan Vokes, on the FAIR website and elsewhere:-
Date: November 15th 2013
Oct 28th 2013 report (latest available on the FAIR website):-
Construction quality issues are to blame for a rise in pipeline incidents from 2000 to 2012
Generally they are large pipes which are liable to explode and produce a large blast radius
Points (3), (4) and (5)
Just off Highway 22 at the Chain Lakes Recreation Area, 130 kilometres south of Calgary, there is a large orange pipe that has been completely exposed by floodwaters, which should not have happened if the pipe was buried deep enough in the first place. But TransCanada says it is aware of the exposed pipeline and that it has been isolated, shut down and depressurized.
Aug 9th 2013 report (FAIR website):-
For five years, Vokes had inspected TransCanada projects across North America and, too often for his liking, found they were poorly constructed and didn’t meet engineering codes. He’d tried to get his superiors to address the problems, to no avail, and was fired last year.
TransCanada has long contended that Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built. But in East Texas, landowners are growing increasingly alarmed by what they’ve seen first-hand: multiple repairs on pipeline sections with dents, faulty welds and other anomalies. The Oklahoma-to-Texas segment of Keystone XL is 90 percent complete, according to the company, and is expected to come online later this year.
Vokes says TransCanada prioritizes staying on schedule over quality. In a 28-page complaint filed last year with the Canadian government’s pipeline regulator, he describes rampant code violations on other TransCanada projects. He claims that the repair work in Texas proves the company is still ignoring the engineering codes and regulations that guide pipeline construction and warns that Keystone XL will likely leak.
“Now if they were actually following this,” he says, holding up a section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ code governing liquid hydrocarbon pipelines, “they wouldn’t have this,” he says, pointing to an array of photos documenting problems with the pipeline.
In one of the photos, David Whitley—who owns 88 acres along the pipeline route near Winnsboro—stands in front of a cut-out piece of pipeline on his property. The words “dent cut out” are spray painted in red against the blue-green steel. Other landowners have seen similar cutouts or stakes in the ground with the words “anomaly” or “weld” written in Sharpie. (David Whitley is also featured – along with Evan Vokes – in the CBS Television report dated November 12th 2013)
Dr. Mohammad Najafi, a construction expert and civil engineering professor at UT-Arlington, reviewed Whitley’s photos and says landowners should be concerned. If the workers didn’t correctly “backfill” the trench and compact the soil the pipe would not be evenly supported and could sag. The dents and sagging could damage the pipe’s coating, leading to corrosion. Corrosion eventually creates holes, which can cause leaks. Leaks make holes expand and can ultimately result in ruptures.
Vokes says these problems suggest a qualified inspector wasn’t present during construction, as required by code. He and Najafi agree that a qualified inspector would have ensured there was adequate padding between the pipe and rock and wouldn’t have allowed improper backfilling. Asked how many inspectors it hired on Keystone XL, TransCanada gave no reply but said it hired hundreds of inspectors on Keystone I.
Landowners in Texas are worried that the frequency of repairs on Keystone XL suggests there are more problems in the pipeline that haven’t been detected. They also worry about new welds; each time a piece of pipe is replaced, two new welds are needed to attach the new section to the pipeline. Because hydrotesting is required only once, these (repair) welds are never pressure-tested like the rest of the welds on the line. “I’m a little bit concerned about a leak or something now that they have cut into it and repaired it so many places,” Whitley says.
(Note: if all the welds were properly inspected and remedied where necessary when done initially, before doing the hydro pressure test, there would be no issues involving “repair” welds being “suspect”).
In 2010, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) sent TransCanada a warning letter citing a need for improvement in the company’s quality assurance program on the natural gas line Bison.
Bison exploded in Wyoming four months later, just six months into operation.
(This happened in a remote area near Gillette, Wyoming, on July 20th 2011. Reference: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/quality-concerns-arose-before-transcanada-pipeline-blast-1.1276144 )
TransCanada had previously touted the pipeline’s safety, assuring the public that it had to adhere to especially stringent standards and close PHMSA oversight during construction.
But emails showing that TransCanada knew about serious problems on Bison surfaced in the aftermath of the explosion. In his written complaint to Canada’s National Energy Board, Vokes described inadequate inspections on Bison and numerous violations on other projects. The board later verified many of Vokes’ allegations and announced it would review TransCanada’s inspections and integrity management programs.
Keystone XL opponents say the Bison explosion and the 12 leaks on Keystone I during its first year of operation prove that TransCanada has a poor safety record and routinely underestimates risks. TransCanada predicted Keystone would leak just once in seven years and that Bison wouldn’t need to be repaired for decades after it was built.
A spill on Keystone XL could be devastating. In July 2010, a pipeline owned by Canadian energy company Enbridge leaked 843,000 gallons of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The exterior coating of the pipe corroded, which eventually led to a crack and rupture. Three years later, cleanup crews still haven’t extracted all the fuel from the river because unlike oil, which floats on top of water, the dense bitumen sinks after the natural gas liquids evaporate, making it harder to clean up.
In March, ExxonMobil’s Pegasus line, also carrying dilbit, leaked and spilled more than 200,000 gallons in Mayflower, Arkansas. The dilbit seeped up from the ground in a residential neighborhood and 22 homes were evacuated. Residents are still experiencing nausea, rashes and breathing problems.
(”dilbit” = diluted bitumen – bitumen that has been diluted with natural gas liquids to reduce its viscosity, so as to make pumping it along pipelines possible)
July 29th 2013 report (FAIR website):-
In March, Mr. Vokes was awarded the Golden Whistle Award by Ottawa’s Peace, Order and Good Government think tank.
Harry Weldon, chair of Golden Whistle Award selection committee, said that Mr. Vokes was chosen for this year’s award because he risked his career to raise the issue of pipeline safety. The group considers a nominee’s conviction and the substantiation of their claims in making its selection.
“This gentleman has risked everything, he has been ostracized somewhat by his peers. He certainly deserves recognition for taking these actions on behalf of the country as a whole,” Mr. Weldon said.
Hearing before the Senate’s Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee on June 6th 2013
Mr. Vokes returned to Ottawa in early June to testify before the Senate’s Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee as part of its study into the safe bulk transport of hydrocarbons in Canada. The committee will have a difficult time reconciling his testimony with the testimony given by the National Energy Board and TransCanada.
In his June 6 appearance, Mr. Vokes recounted being told by his superiors to retract code violations that he had identified in the construction of a pipeline. In another instance, he raised concerns over welding practices on TransCanada infrastructure, but according to Mr. Vokes, his recommendation for a welding quality inspection was rebuffed by management at the company.
Mr. Vokes said that he took his concerns directly to project managers in the company in 2010, and went on to write letters to middle management and later TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, but was pressured to drop his claims and continue to follow existing practices.
Mr. Vokes said he attempted to highlight regulatory and code violations as part of the company’s 2012 internal audit, but he told the committee that he was dismissed before he could submit all of the supporting documentation.
“I was forced out of the building before I could finish submitting all the documentation. Rather, the TransCanada staff who broke the law were retained and contributed to the audit when I could not defend my points. I had fought a protracted battle with TransCanada management and lost, with the regulation and code violations appearing in the internal audit,” Mr. Vokes told members of the Senate committee.
“What I have documented from the pipeline industry is that the mix of politics and commercial interests has resulted in false public claims of exceptional industry practice when the reality is that industry struggles to comply with code and regulation, rather operating as a risk-based industry with no enforcement or accountability,” Mr. Vokes went on to state.
A number of Senators raised questions over pipeline safety in light of industry claims that pipelines are the safest method of transporting bulk shipments of oil.
“We have been told that the pipelines have a safety record of 99.9 per cent. You paint a very bleak picture of the pipeline industry in Canada and probably, by extension, into the United States,” observed Alberta Conservative Senator Betty Unger. “How do you rationalize these two very diverse points of view?”
Mr. Vokes described it as “a large act of providence” that more pipeline ruptures have not occurred as result of poorly constructed pipelines.
“The problem is that, with pipelines, it waits a long time. Many times with the pipelines, it has to be disturbed before anything will happen,” Mr. Vokes responded. “There are thousands of cracks in the system—it’s just which ones will become the problem. It is low probability and high consequence.”
Quebec Liberal Senator Paul Massicotte asked Mr. Vokes whether he thought the problem was “endemic” in the pipeline industry, or limited to his former employer.
Mr. Vokes responded that the problem was not limited to TransCanada.
“They are taking risks because they know that the probability is low. When the probability is low, you keep hoping that you can extend it farther,” Mr. Vokes replied. “On the National Energy Board site, with its unresolved issues and summarizing offences by the various energy pipeline companies, I think it is very clear.”
Mr. Vokes’ testimony put TransCanada and the National Energy Board on the defensive when representatives of both the company and the regulator appeared before the committee on June 13 to respond to his claims.
Patrick Smyth, the NEB’s business unit leader, praised Mr. Vokes for bringing his concerns to the regulator’s attention before outlining the agency’s course of action following Mr. Vokes’ complaint.
June 11th 2013 report (FAIR website):-
"You don't know you're a whistleblower until the retaliation starts," (Mr. Vokes) said (also at the Senate hearing referred to above). "The wrong-doers in positions of authority will do everything they can to discredit you."
June 7th 2013 report (FAIR website):-
In addition, engineering shortcuts associated with the first phase of the Keystone XL project "resulted in substandard material being used in Keystone pump stations," (Mr. Vokes) alleged (also at the Senate hearing referred to above).