PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - The ability to detect leaks along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline won't be known until the pipeline is built and pumping oil through the remote wilderness of northern British Columbia, a lawyer for the province noted at a hearing deciding the pipeline's fate.

Chris Jones grilled a panel of company experts on the design of the 1,100-kilometre pipeline that would deliver oil from the Alberta oilsands to a tanker port on the B.C. coast.

"So is what you're telling me that the actual sensitivity of a pipeline — perhaps this pipeline, along with other ones — can only be determined when it's actually been constructed and you're able to test that actual pipeline in operation?" Jones asked on the second day of environmental assessment hearings in Prince George, B.C.

"We have a quite an operating history.... It's not an issue of trust us, wait 'til construction," answered Barry Callele, director of pipeline control systems and leak detection for Enbridge Pipelines Inc.

Testing is and has been under way, Callele said, and test results show the estimates provided in the project proposal are conservative.

"But I guess the answer to my question is still: We don't know until it's been built. Isn't that right?" Jones asked.

"I think we know what we know today. We'll know more at every phase along the pipeline construction project and we'll know emphatically or empirically at the time that fluid withdrawal tests are done at different sections of the pipeline."

Callele said there would be five overlapping leak detection systems on the twin pipelines that would carry diluted bitumen to the tanker port in Kitimat, B.C., and condensate from Kitimat back to Bruderheim, Alta., including aerial surveillance, foot patrols, and 132 monitored pressure valves along the route.

"We will have one of the best instrumented pipeline systems not only in North America, but probably the world," Callele told the panel.

Jones pointed out that according to U.S. data, there were 31 leaks from Enbridge pipelines in that country since 2002, and six of the 10 largest spills by volume in that time were from Enbridge pipelines.

Of those six, none were detected by Enbridge leak detection systems, Jones said.

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake issued a statement late Wednesday saying the government is "extremely concerned" about the answers heard at the hearings.

"The responses from Enbridge/Northern Gateway to cross-examination by our legal counsel are too often incomplete and lacking in commitment," Lake said. "Their answers suggest that the company is not taking the very real concerns of British Columbians seriously."

The government took issue in particular with the company's reliance on manual shut-down, instead of automatic action in the case of a leak being detected.

"One thing that is crystal clear after the last two days is that Enbridge/Northern Gateway is putting off making commitments about including these systems in the pipeline design until after they get approval to proceed," Lake said.

"We believe that the only way to protect British Columbia's interests is to ensure that these commitments are made up front, so that everyone will understand how they intend to run this project."

John Carruthers, president of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, said outside the hearings that people have concerns about whether the pipeline can be built and operated safely, and the questions being raised in the hearing room are "very legitimate."

But Northern Gateway is a state-of-the-art system, he said.

"Whatever industrial activity you have, it has some element of risk," Carruthers told reporters.

"The real key is to try and get that as low as possible. In our case, we're trying to get that to zero. So that's the direction you're going and you try and do the best you can with processes, with people and with technology."

His sentiments were echoed 800 kilometres away at a conference on pipeline safety organized by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver.

Ziad Saad, a vice-president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said data collected from members shows there's been about three spills annually for the past decade.

That's better than a decade ago, he said, although zero is the goal.

"We don't pretend that we are here today at zero incidents and we don't pretend that we're going to be there next year," he said. "But that remains the goal. Period. We're always going to strive to have zero incidents of releases or leaks."

Janet Holder, executive vice-president of western access for Enbridge, told the Vancouver meeting the technology to detect leaks has continued to evolve, especially over the last five years.

"There are new technologies we're testing actually as we speak that will find a tiny pinhole leak in a pipeline that could not possibly be found before," she said.

"We work very closely with companies like GE to develop new technologies and new ways to ensure the health of the pipelines."

The conference also heard that tanker traffic off British Columbia's coast will increase dramatically if Northern Gateway and a proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion go ahead.

The number of tankers plying the coast would rise from 100 at present to 550, said Jonathan Whitworth, CEO of Seaspan and representative of Canadian companies involved in coastal marine transportation, ship escorts and ship repair.

But 600 commercial vessels move each day through the Strait of Dover, in the English Channel, and about 22,000 tankers traverse the Singapore Strait, he said, and they do so safely.

"I do believe tankers can safely navigate the world, we've seen it right here in Vancouver and I know that it can be done for many years to come."

- With files from Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver

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  • 10. Oil And Gas Accounts For 4.8 Per Cent Of GDP

    The oil and gas industries accounted for around $65 billion of economic activity in Canada annually in recent years, or slightly less than 5 per cent of GDP. Source: <a href="http://www.ceri.ca/docs/2010-10-05CERIOilandGasReport.pdf" target="_hplink">Canada Energy Research Institute</a>

  • 9. Oil Exports Have Grown Tenfold Since 1980

    Canada exported some 12,000 cubic metres of oil per day in 1980. By 2010, that number had grown to 112,000 cubic metres daily. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=9&SheetID=224" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 8. Refining Didn't Grow At All As Exports Boomed

    Canada refined 300,000 cubic metres daily in 1980; in 2010, that number was slightly down, to 291,000, even though exports of oil had grown tenfold in that time. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=7&SheetID=104" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 7. 97 Per Cent Of Oil Exports Go To The U.S.

    Despite talk by the federal government that it wants to open Asian markets to Canadian oil, the vast majority of exports still go to the United States -- 97 per cent as of 2009. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 6. Canada Has World's 2nd-Largest Proven Oil Reserves

    Canada's proven reserves of 175 billion barrels of oil -- the vast majority of it trapped in the oil sands -- is the second-largest oil stash in the world, after Saudi Arabia's 267 billion. Source: <a href="http://www.ogj.com/index.html" target="_hplink">Oil & Gas Journal</a>

  • 5. Two-Thirds Of Oil Sands Bitumen Goes To U.S.

    One-third of Canada's oil sands bitumen stays in the country, and is refined into gasoline, heating oil and diesel. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 4. Alberta Is Two-Thirds Of The Industry

    Despite its reputation as the undisputed centre of Canada's oil industry, Alberta accounts for only two-thirds of energy production. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the second and third-largest producers. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 3. Alberta Will Reap $1.2 Trillion From Oil Sands

    Alberta' government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/27/alberta-oil-sands-royalties-ceri_n_1382640.html" target="_hplink">will reap $1.2 trillion in royalties from the oil sands over the next 35 years</a>, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.

  • 2. Canadian Oil Consumption Has Stayed Flat

    Thanks to improvements in energy efficiency, and a weakening of the country's manufacturing base, oil consumption in Canada has had virtually no net change in 30 years. Consumption went from 287,000 cubic metres daily in 1980 to 260,000 cubic metres daily in 2010. Source: Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=6&SheetID=99" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 1. 250,000 Jobs.. Plus Many More?

    The National Energy Board says oil and gas employs 257,000 people in Canada, not including gas station employees. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the oil sands alone <a href="http://www.capp.ca/aboutUs/mediaCentre/NewsReleases/Pages/OilsandsaCanadianjobcreator.aspx" target="_hplink">will grow from 75,000 jobs to 905,000 jobs by 2035</a> -- assuming, of course, the price of oil holds up.



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  • June 18, 2012 -- Elk Point

    Enbridge Inc.'s <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/enbridge-elk-point-spill-_n_1610613.html" target="_hplink">Athabasca pipeline leaked an estimated 230,000 litres of oil</a> about 24 kilometres southeast of Elk Point, Alberta. <br></br> A member of Greenpeace cleans up a mock oil spill outside the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline office in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. The mock spill was set up by Greenpeace to show the risks of spills similar to the recent one outside of Red Deer, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

  • June 18, 2012 -- Elk Point

    Although the spill didn't leak into any waterways, Energy Resources Conservation Board's Darin Barter said the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/enbridge-elk-point-spill-_n_1610613.html" target="_hplink"> spill was considered "significant" in size</a>.<br></br> "Any amount of crude oil out of a pipeline is significant to us. Obviously we've had a number of pipeline incidents in the past short while and we're monitoring cleanup on them and we have a number of investigations underway."

  • June 7, 2012 -- Red Deer River

    An estimated 475,000 litres of oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/09/alberta-oil-spill-red-deer-river_n_1583579.html" target="_hplink">spilled from a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline</a> and proceeded to leak into the Red Deer River. <br></br> Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • June 7, 2012 -- Red Deer River

    Some of the oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/11/alberta-oil-pipeline-spill-red-deer-river-clean-up_n_1588536.html" target="_hplink">seeped into the Gleniffer reservoir</a>, which some Albertans rely on for drinking water. Plains Midstream Canada <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/11/alberta-oil-pipeline-spill-red-deer-river-clean-up_n_1588536.html" target="_hplink">trucked in drinking water</a> for those residing near the area.

  • May 19, 2012 -- Northwest Alberta

    Pace Oil and Gas's waste disposal line <a href="http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/energy-resources/Rainbow Lake spill pegged at 22,000 barrels/6683338/story.html" target="_hplink">leaked about 22,000 barrels of a mixture of oil and water</a> 20 kilometres southeast of Rainbow Lake. The spill was discovered on May 19 by another oil and gas company.

  • May 19, 2012 -- Northwest Alberta

    The oil spill "<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/pipeline-spill-sends-22000-barrels-of-oil-mix-into-alberta-muskeg/article2447765/" target="_hplink">ranks among the largest in North America in recent years</a>," the Globe and Mail wrote.

  • June 26, 2011 -- Swan Hills

    A pipeline explosion and oil leak at a Pengrowth Energy facility caused a pipeline to leak <a href="http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110627/edm_oil_110627/20110627/?hub=EdmontonHome" target="_hplink">500 barrels of light, sweet crude oil into Judy Creek</a> near Swan Hills, Alberta.

  • June 26, 2011 -- Swan Hills

    Energy Resources Conservation Board spokesman Darin Barter said the <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2011/06/27/edmonton-oil-spill-swan-hills.html" target="_hplink">leak was relatively small</a>. <br></br> "It's what we would consider a minor spill with 95 per cent of the product coming out of the pipeline being water and five per cent oil," he told CBC. "However, we're taking it very seriously, as is the company."

  • April 29, 2011 -- Little Buffalo First Nation

    Plains Midstream Canada's 45-year-old Rainbow pipeline<a href="http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/a-dire-warning-from-a-broken-pipe/article4262774/?service=mobile" target="_hplink"> spilled roughly 28,000 barrels of light crude oil</a> near Little Buffalo First Nation.

  • April 29, 2011 -- Little Buffalo First Nation

    Residents, including children, <a href="http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/news-media/latest-news/urgent-measures-needed-for-citizens-of-little-buffalo-first-nation-in-" target="_hplink">reported incidents of burning eyes, stomach pains, disorientation, nausea and headaches</a>, according to the Assembly of First Nations.