KAMLOOPS, B.C. - If Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) plans to operate its planned pipeline in British Columbia the way it did in Michigan, where millions of litres of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River, the company can "forget it," B.C. Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday.
The premier's statements are her strongest yet in connection with the Northern Gateway project, but she is still refusing to take a position on the proposed 1,170-kilometre pipeline between Alberta's oil sands and the B.C. coast.
The province has said it plans to remain neutral on the pipeline proposal until the ongoing environmental process is complete, and Clark's comments on Wednesday did not represent a significant shift from what she and her Liberal government have already said.
Still, Clark had strong words for the Calgary-based energy company when asked about a report by U.S. investigators that concluded Enbridge handled a July 2010 oil spill in southwestern Michigan like the "Keystone Kops."
Clark called the company's actions "disgraceful."
"I think the company should be deeply embarrassed about what unfolded — we saw that in the report," Clark told reporters in Kamloops, B.C.
"If they think they're going to operate like that in British Columbia, forget it."
The head of the U.S. National Transportation Safe Board was highly critical of Enbridge's response to the spill, allowing oil to gush into the area for 17 hours before it was stopped. Enbridge is still cleaning up the heavy crude.
Clark said she has safety concerns about the proposed B.C.-Alberta pipeline, and she said the company must alleviate those concerns if it wants to do business in the province.
She said her government is watching the review process currently underway at Canada's National Energy Board.
"We have intervener status, we will be engaged in it very directly as they go through their NEB process here," she said.
"But I think Enbridge has some pretty important questions to answer, because the results of that report are absolutely unacceptable."
Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier said the company is committed to learning from the Michigan spill to ensure something similar never happens again.
Nogier said the company has made numerous changes to its procedures and training.
"I think the report underlines the importance of continuing the dialogue with all British Columbians, to hear their concerns with respect to the Gateway project, but also to have conversations around our plans around safety and environmental protections," Nogier said in an interview.
"We would also like to continue the dialogue around what benefits would flow to the community. So it needs to be a full conversation with British Columbians."
The American safety board said Enbridge failed to deal adequately with structural problems detected on the pipeline years before the rupture and then failed to respond appropriately to the catastrophe.
The board's report said Enbridge didn't realize the oil was pouring into the Michigan river until a worker from another company called in the alert, and during the time Enbridge control centre personnel twice pumped more oil into the ruptured line.
After the report was released Tuesday, Patrick Daniel, Enbridge's CEO, said the company believed that the experienced personnel involved in the decisions made at the time of the release were trying to do the right thing.
"As with most such incidents, a series of unfortunate events and circumstances resulted in an outcome no one wanted."
The spill fouled more than 50 kilometres of waterways and wetlands. About 320 people reported symptoms from crude oil exposure. Enbridge's cleanup costs have exceeded $800 million.