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Economist Robyn Allan criticizes Enbridge's lack of land and marine spill response

Photo from EPA

A recent cross-examination of Enbridge experts at the Northern Gateway hearings revealed that the company wouldn't have specific oil spill response plans in place until after the pipeline was given the green light. Former ICBC CEO and economist Robyn Allan said that even if a plan were in place, Enbridge can't be trusted to deliver on it. 

"Enbridge had told North Americans that they had a plan in place for Kalamazoo. They had a plan in place that anticipated conventional oil spills, and were totally incapable of delivering the plan," she said, noting that Enbridge didn't adjust its plan to respond to spilling bitumen, the heavy, dense oil sands crude the pipeline was pumping three years ago when it sprung a leak that led to the biggest onland spill in U.S. history.

"[Enbridge] didn't have knowledge of the local contractors who could come and respond to the spill, they had to import workers from the south, and were totally unprepared even though they told us they were."

No oil response plan before pipeline approval? 

Environment Minister Terry Lake expressed concern that Enbridge's experts left many questions unanswered, and that the company still hadn't prepared adequate land-or marine-spill response plans. But according to an industry spokesperson, that's simply standard for most pipeline proposals. 

"There's no point in doing the plan in advance without having the full approval and the route plan and knowing what the pipeline will look like," CEPA (Canadian Energy Pipeline Association) communications and stakeholder relations VP Philippe Reicher said. 

While he said he couldn't comment specifically on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, he said that details of an emergency response plan tend to get settled after the approval and before construction begins. 

"You may have a high-level emergency response in place, but fundamentally, after you have received your approval, when you know exactly where the route is, and meeting regulatory conditions, then you put together a detailed emergency response plan," he said.

Asked about whether Canadian pipeline companies' response to bitumen spills differ from their response to conventional oil spills, Reicher responded: 

"Pipelines carry all kinds of different products, and you incorporate in the response different procedures based on the kind of product...But to be honest, more than the product, there are many other factors that are more important, such as site conditions, weather....the product is only one feature."

Allan said if this is business as usual for pipeline companies, it's a procedure that "doesn't protect public interests."

At the hearing, Enbridge experts also could not demonstrate under oath that it would be able to access or respond to a spill in the remote areas the pipeline will cross or that the company will be able to recover sunken oil.

"Enbridge won’t say under oath that they can clean up a remote oil spill or recover sunken oil because they know they can’t," Greenpeace energy campaigner Mike Hudema said. 

"It took Enbridge over 17 hours to respond to the Kalamazoo, Michigan tar sands spill, in a populated area, and two years later there are still large amounts of bitumen at the bottom of the river."

Enbridge was contacted, but did not respond before publication. 

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