CONTRIBUTION · 4th December 2010
I have heard and read many comments recently regarding Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project and the chances of a bitumen or condensate spill being “minimal”. I am unaware of anyone running the numbers to accurately estimate the chances of a spill in reference to the tidal waters and pipeline. I have therefore calculated these numbers as a percentage of a spill along with the size of the spill to better understand the risks associated with this proposed project.
Enbridge Northern Gateway established a Marine Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) Working Group to provide advice on the design and completion of a quantitative risk assessment for the marine components of Northern Gateway. Enbridge supplied the data used in the following calculations remembering that the QRA group was chosen by Enbridge to determine these values. Although I question their accuracy, I will use them at face value until they are proven different. You may be surprised at the results of my calculations.
Considering Enbridge has presented the Northern Gateway project as a minimum 30 year lifespan, I wanted to know the chance of a marine spill as a percentage in that 30, 40 and 50 year timeframe. I also wanted to know how large that spill could be.
Enbridge estimates the probability of a marine oil spill of any size is 1 occurrence in every 250 years. That mathematically converts, using the Poisson distribution model, to the chance of a spill being:
- 10.64% over the proposed projects 30-year lifespan,
- 13.63% over 40 years and
- 16.37% over 50 years.
It’s tough to get a handle on the possible spill sizes in relationship to these percentages as Enbridge only clearly provides the size of spills for the most extreme timeframes not the one in 250 year occurrence. Readers of the Enbridge’s application without reference to the draft QRA can only read between the lines to determine the spill size for the 1 occurrence in 250-year estimate. It must be understood that any sized spill can occur at any time. The spill size associated with the 250-year estimate is up to 5 million liters. This is equivalent to the volume of two Olympic sized swimming pools.
To summarize, the chance of a marine spill of up to 5 million liters during the 30-year lifespan of Enbridge Northern Gateway’s project is 10.64 percent. The chances of a spill increase to 13.63% over a 40-year lifespan and 16.37% chance over 50 years.
The chance of a spill is between 10.64% and 16.37% of up to 5 million liters in the Douglas Channel or British Columbia Coastal waters. That’s better than a one in seven chance of a sizable spill over a 50-year project.
This is quite the contrast to The Pacific Pilotage Authorities’ remarks reported in the October 21, 2009 Kitimat Northern Sentinel who said the chance of a potential spill here in the future is nil. “There should never be an incident”. I confirmed this quote as it was surprisingly displayed on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway website.
The irony is that the marine division where there is a high risk of a spill isn’t even the responsibility of Enbridge. It will be the responsibility of the owner of the oil or condensate and the shipping company who is transporting it.
There is also a greater risk of a spill on the pipeline side.
The probability that a bitumen or condensate leak would occur along the pipeline route was calculated using the National Energy Board’s (NEB) failure frequency information. Using the data Enbridge filed in their application, there is:
- A 27.6% chance of a medium sized spill over the 50-year lifespan of the pipeline in the Interior Plateau (east of Burns Lake to just east of Terrace) and,
- A 15.03% chance of a large spill over the 50-year lifespan of the pipeline in the Interior Plateau (east of Burns Lake to just east of Terrace) and,
- A 9.85 % chance of a medium sized spill over the 50-year lifespan of the pipeline in the Coast Mountains (east of Terrace all the way to Kitimat).
A medium sized spill for a pipeline is classified as between 30,000 and 1,000,000 liters. A large sized spill is greater than 1,000,000 liters. Spills smaller than 30,000 liters occur more frequent.
To me minimal means the least possible or very small; not a 1 in 7 chance of a spill in our coastal waters or 1 in 4 chance for the proposed pipeline.
From now on when referring to chances of a spill in regards to the Enbridge Northern Gateway’s proposed pipeline and marine component, we should be using other adjectives to describe the risk, but minimal shouldn’t be one of them.
Irony and Hypocrisy
Comment by Sean O'Driscoll on 9th December 2010
What strikes me the most about this whole debate is the sheer hypocrisy of it all. How many Rio Tinto Alcan employees are clamouring to have the Enbridge project nixed on the basis of a "potential" accident; meanwhile, the facility they work at has been, and continues to, pollute the environment and kill (by causing deadly cancer) or maim its workers. There is no potential there - its a sure thing because its been happening for decades! No one ever says: "close the place down, its harming the environment and killing people". I work there too, and don't want to see it close. In fact, I support its expansion, which is a guarantee that it will continue to pollute and there will be folks who suffer injury or disease. All industrial projects have their risks. These risks need to be managed as effectively as possible. If Enbridge clears all of the review hurdles, then I'm all for it. I'm sure a lot of unemployed people are as well.
Comment by Bryan Notheisz on 7th December 2010
It is rather ironic that as we chat about probabilitys of spills, poissons distribution models, etc, I can tell you that there is a 100% probability that many of those left unemployed from the closure of Eurocan will be seeking employment in northern Alberta.
A very quick internet search led me to this article, relating to Kinder Morgan increasing their pipe capacity through Jasper National Park. http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/business/story.html?id=31c8d460-da17-4d52-af2b-a3b134b5c905&k=58903
And here is an interesting excerpt from this 2007 story regarding Kinder Morgans intentions: "Kinder Morgan's agenda includes TMX North. For an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion, the firm aims to build a 400,000-barrels-daily branch line from a point west of Mount Robson across the Prince George region of central B.C. to a proposed new supertanker port on the Pacific coast at Kitimat." Maybe they have a vested interest in this, as Aaron points out?
I want this project to at least be seriously investigated before it is killed by well meaning opposition. We need the jobs and the investment in this area if we want to be here to enjoy the pristine environment.
I've missed our chats Tom
Comment by Aaron von Schleinitz on 6th December 2010
I like that you point out that even Kinder Morgan is against the gateway project as well. I would be too if I owned the only pipeline that could deliver oil from the tar sands to over seas markets. I mean who likes competition? I really don't think a company composed of Enron's old assets and employees cares any more about the Earth than Enbridge does.
Your right about Wikipedia having a longer list of spills for Enbridge than for Kinder Morgan. However, wikipedia is not really a credible resource.
I'll give you it does seem that Enbridge has a longer list of spills, but I can find a more Kinder Morgan searching else where on the internet than you see on Wikipedia. It stills seems that Enbridge has spilled more and I can't find any exact volumes of spills over the past ten years for Kinder Morgan.
One could take this as Enbridge is a more transparent company publishing figures and making them readily available. They were named one of Canada's top ten places to work and this year as one of Canada's greenest employers.
I think we have the chance here for a Canadian company to transport Canadian oil and make jobs for young Canadians like myself.
If not Kitimat...
Comment by Darcy Metz on 6th December 2010
If all of this regional opposition to Enbridge succeeds in killing this project, then what? A company of that size likely has one or two alternate plans already drawn up that they will then work towards. That tar sands oil is going to flow one way or another.
So if this project is finally killed Kitimat's economic future can remain at the mercy of Rio Tinto Alcan and a small influx of retirees who enjoy living in a region with such great year round weather.
Wow is right Aaron...
Comment by Tom Campbell on 6th December 2010
It seems even the oil pipeline energy business is against Enbridge... I Wonder why???.. HEADLINE - KINDER MORGAN CANADA JOINS FIGHT AGAINST NORTHERN GATEWAY PIPELINE. article can be found in Daily Commercial News June 21, 2010.
Its not just the potential spills... Enbridge even angers their own industry for not following regulations.....
You quote some pretty heady stats but I challenge you to take your stats one step further and research WHO owns the piplines and who spills the most oil then report back here and tell us which ones spill the most and which have the most fines, etc and worst safety record.
In fact take it a step further compare Kinder Morgan's safety and environmental record for the period of 1999 to 2010 with Enbridge and publish the facts here... (wikipedia has them readily availble)
You are entitled to your opinion Aaron, but you are not entitled to your own facts..
Comment by Aaron von Schleinitz on 5th December 2010
Wow those are some scary odds of a spill that your coming up with Kelly. I mean a 1 in 4 chance in 30years of a minimal spill seems far too risky for me.
This has got me thinking of all the other oil pipelines in Canada and the danger they pose. Turns out there are over 23,000 crude oil pipelines in Canada.
This includes the pipeline built from Edmonton to Vancouver in 1953 by Kinder Morgan Canada. If a brand new state of the art pipeline has a 1/4 chance of a spill I would imagine this 60 year old pipeline has even worse odds.
For those of you that don't know this pipeline carries approximately 300,000 barrels of oil a day for deliveries to Asian markets. They are currently working towards a project to increase capacity to 700,000 barrels a day. In contrast the Enbridge pipeline will carry 525,000 barrels a day to Kitimat.
So I figured with this pipeline carrying oil for 60 years at almost the same rate of flow there must be a record of some disastrous spills. The thing is I can't really find any records of a significant spill. I could be missing some smaller spills that might not have available records online but nothing really apparent. In fact I can only find about two significant oil spills in Canada. Seems like a pretty impressive record for a major oil producing country.
In summary I'm not too sure about your numbers being accurate. Since we have a real world example that seems to be "beating the odds" for the last 60 years. Obviously there is a way to transport and ship crude in this province in a safe manner for generations.
***I have links to documents, articles, and maps supporting my facts and statistics if anyone would like to see please email me.
P. Eng. (retired)
Comment by Dave Shannon on 5th December 2010
Excellent article Kelly!
How much has enbridge spilled?
Comment by Tom Campbell on 4th December 2010
Enbridge Spill FACTS = 713 spills on their pipelines since 1999 = 21.3 million litres. or 135,000 barrels.... thats 72 spills per year... ot 6 per month, or one every week.... in the last ten years.... at least the clean up jobs are local and can't be shipped over seas like our raw maerials...
I know its just spilly talk....