Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors

March 06, 2014 12:01 ET

Whistleblower Criticizes NEB's Toothless Audit of TransCanada's Safety Practices and Calls on NEB to Do More to Prevent Pipeline Ruptures

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwired - March 6, 2014) - Evan Vokes, the former TransCanada pipeline engineer specialist and whistleblower who alerted the National Energy Board ("NEB") to serious breaches of pipeline safety laws by TransCanada, is criticising the NEB for not going far enough to protect against future pipeline ruptures, including along the Canadian section of Keystone XL.

On February 24, 2014, the NEB released an audit into TransCanada's pipeline safety practices prompted by Mr. Vokes. The NEB audit largely validated Mr. Vokes' concerns, finding that TransCanada was "non-compliant" in several key areas (See background and summary of key findings). However, Mr. Vokes is concerned that the paper and interview based audit is toothless and leaves numerous safety concerns unaddressed.

"In my experience, TransCanada's management failings are systemic, and cannot be fixed by a review of what TransCanada says its policies are on paper," said Mr. Vokes. "Time and again, TransCanada's audit systems have failed to catch substandard engineering on its pipelines. Unless the NEB is willing to engage on-the-ground to ensure that TransCanada is actually constructing and maintaining pipelines that are safe, future ruptures are inevitable."

There have already been ruptures at pipelines where Mr. Vokes had raised safety concerns. When employed for TransCanada, Mr. Vokes specifically raised red flags regarding the strength of welds along the North Central Corridor pipeline in Northern Alberta after he personally rejected several key welds as unsafe. TransCanada responded by redefining what it considered an "acceptable risk". The NEB was fully aware of this issue and yet failed to act. On October 17, 2013, the 1.6 billion cubic foot per day pipeline blew in the precise area where Mr. Vokes identified defective welds.

Mr. Vokes has raised similar concerns regarding the Canadian section of Keystone XL, noting that the portion of the pipeline that is already in-service does not meet design standards. TransCanada has been unable to verify the integrity of approximately 600 fittings and elbows. The NEB has stated that it is continuing to investigate "lower than specified yield strength", but has taken no immediate steps to address the risk of rupture.

"I consider it to be immoral to continue to operate Keystone when it represents an unknown and potentially serious risk to public safety," said Mr. Vokes. "The truth is, no one knows the risks that TransCanada is running by continuing to operate that pipeline."

By law, the NEB is a court of record with broad and investigative and enforcement powers. Mr. Vokes calls on the NEB to use the legal tools available to it to stem the high incident rate of pipeline ruptures in Canada.

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