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Is Kinder Morgan Better Than Enbridge?

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Kinder Morgan would like us to believe that their Trans Mountain pipeline project in British Columbia is a better proposal than the one Enbridge has put forward, and that they're a more responsible company. Of course, as a climate activist I don't see any oil company proposing to expand oil consumption as playing a positive role in today's day and age. But given all of Enbridge's bungling as of late, some folks may be swayed by this argument.

We have heard a lot recently about all of Enbridge's faults -- and there have been a number of them -- in the midst of their public consultation for the highly controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal:

  • The Kalamazoo oil spill was not only an ecological disaster but also a public relations nightmare for the company because of their mismanagement of the incident.
  • The missing islands on the company's graphical representation of the Douglas channel were another major snafu.

And that is just to name two of the embarrassing situations that Enbridge has had to explain to the public.

It seems more and more like the Enbridge pipeline proposal is dead in the water. It still is quite possible that it will receive approval from the National Energy Board, but if the NDP wins the upcoming B.C. election and/or First Nations lawsuits and injunctions come forward (both likely scenarios), then this project seems destined to be postponed, if not abandoned outright, before any shovels actually hit the ground.

Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan has been waiting like a snake in the grass ready to strike. The company plans to file its official application to the National Energy Board for its new pipeline project -- which is equal in size to the Enbridge proposal -- in late 2013. That's around the same time that Enbridge is likely to be in real serious trouble, after the B.C. election and the final decision from the National Energy Board.

So what about Kinder Morgan's track record? Well for starters, Richard Kinder and Bill Morgan are both former Enron executives; in fact, the company itself was once called Enron Liquid Pipelines LLP.

Enron may not be a name that most people associate with trust and responsibility, but to give Kinder and Morgan the benefit of the doubt, neither of them was actually charged in the case that left their predecessors facing prison sentences. As a result, Richard Kinder is now one of the richest men on earth and is now operating one of the biggest pipeline companies on the planet -- but they have had more than their fair share of problems.

SCATHING REPORT

Earlier this week, the National Energy Board wrote a scathing report about Kinder Morgan's mismanagement of the oil spill at their Sumas Mountain tank farm in Abbotsford in January 2012. Staff failed to act for hours after the incident took place, much like in the case of the Kalamazoo spill that got so much negative attention for Enbridge.

A B.C. court also found Kinder Morgan liable for the 2007 oil spill on the Trans Mountain route in Burnaby, and fined the company for failing to adequately respond to the incident. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has called them the "Keystone Cops" because of their mismanagement of the 2007 spill, echoing comments made about Enbridge in Kalamazoo.

This is on top of several other small spills that the company has experienced during the brief time they have been responsible for this pipeline. In total, there have been 78 spills reported to the NEB in the total lifetime of the pipeline.

Things look even worse when you explore other incidents that Kinder Morgan has been associated with outside of Canada. Earlier this year, one of the company's gas pipelines in Powell County, Kentucky exploded. Just this September, Kinder Morgan was fined over $300,000 dollars for violating risk management provisions at two Wyoming natural gas plants.

Also in the news recently has been the tragic story of a cluster of cancer cases in children at a school in Nevada, where a Kinder Morgan jet fuel pipeline is alleged to have been slowly leaking into the school yard. The mother of a child from the school who died of a rare brain cancer is now suing Kinder Morgan, and hopes to use the money to set up a cancer treatment centre to help the other affected children.

The company later faced a $10 million criminal fine plus related civil charges for "serious willful" negligence in a 2004 incident that killed five people in Walnut Creek, Calif., where city workers struck a gas pipeline and accidentally caused an explosion. Similar to the 2007 spill in Burnaby, the pipeline was not adequately marked and the company's response was considered inadequate.

Later that same year, a Kinder Morgan pipeline burst in the Mojave Desert in California. For 12 hours, it spewed diesel more than 70 feet into the air. The fuel seeped an estimated 50 feet below the surface and the clean-up involved removing 10,000 tons of dirt from the site.

HEALTH, SAFETY VIOLATIONS

In 2011, the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) cited Kinder Morgan for, among other violations, failing to maintain current maps showing pipeline locations, failing to test pipeline safety devices, failing to maintain proper firefighting equipment and failing to adequately inspect its pipelines.

In addition, Kinder Morgan has a lengthy record of Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) violations.

Documents obtained by NaturalGasWatch.org revealed that Kinder Morgan and its subsidiaries have been cited for 45 violations of workplace safety regulations since 2006, including 35 "serious" violations, which the OSHA defines as violations that are "likely to cause death or serious harm" to the employee. Kinder Morgan and its subsidiaries have paid nearly $55,000 in fines as a result of these violations.

This is not exactly what I would describe as a good track record. Right now Kinder Morgan is in the midst of "public open houses" along the Trans Mountain route, where they are setting up displays and inviting the public in to discuss the pipeline proposal with their staff. The company staff all wear Trans Mountain jackets and the company's website for this pipeline proposal uses the name "Trans Mountain" as well.

It seems to me that their public relations staff know that their own brand is toxic, so they have chosen instead to use the name of the pipeline they bought in 2005 instead of their own when pitching their project to the people of B.C.

TIP OF THE ICEBERG

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's missing from the "information" provided at these sessions or on the project's website. Most notably, Kinder Morgan has yet to provide a detailed community-level map of the existing pipeline route--let alone the newly proposed pipeline route. Burnaby MP Kennedy Stewart went so far as to create his own map, by having staff use old surveyors' maps from the 1950s to create up-to-date maps for the public.

The company currently claims they will run the new pipeline alongside the existing Trans Mountain pipeline route. This is hard to believe given the number of schools, golf courses, homes and shopping centres that were built on top of the pipeline route since 1952. We need to demand that Kinder Morgan come clean about where this pipeline is being proposed before they start meeting with the public and asking for feedback. None of the people who attended these open houses should be counted as having been "consulted", given that there was insufficient information to be consulted about.

Kinder Morgan is going to try to use a "divide and conquer" strategy by making the case that they are a better choice for B.C. than Enbridge. We can't let this happen.

We need a unified response to all of these proposals. What is clear to me is that there really is no such thing as a "safe" oil company. It is inherently a dirty and dangerous business that at its most fundamental level is unsustainable. We aren't going to kick our addiction to fossil fuels overnight, but the decisions we make around these pipelines will set us on a course for either more oil dependence or less. This is a no-brainer -- we simply cannot continue to increase our dependence on these dirty fuels.

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