A report from Canadian environmental watchdog Equiterre found that over 13 years, pipelines in Quebec leaked a total of 987 barrels of petroleum, mostly from the 1950s-vintage Trans-Nord pipeline system that shuttles product between refineries and distribution centers in the province.
Equiterre's analysis, based on data gleaned from Canada's National Energy Board, Transportation Safety Board and Quebec's provincial pipeline regulator, found 103 incidents had been reported on the province's pipeline network between 2004 and 2017, with 23 of those incidents involving spills. The report said the number of incidents surged in 2017, particularly on Trans-Nord, which is the province's longest and busiest pipeline. Equiterre said 55% of Quebec incidents in the study occurred in 2017.
The report said the Trans-Nord system accounted for 79 incidents during the 13 years and received 10 National Energy Board letters and safety orders in 2017, some of which are unresolved. Trans-Nord is owned by Trans-Northern Pipelines Inc., a venture of Exxon Mobil Corp.'s Imperial Oil Ltd., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Suncor Energy Inc.
The report called for an enforcement crackdown on Trans-Nord by the National Energy Board and the Transportation Safety Board and the creation of pipeline safety laws in Quebec. It also called on governments to decrease reliance on petroleum-based fuels and products.
"If I had 79 violations of the highway code in the past 10 years, I certainly wouldn't have a driver's license anymore and I might even be in jail," Steven Guilbeault, a senior director with Equiterre, said in a June 14 statement that accompanied the report's release. "And yet companies like Trans-Nord can continue operating with impunity and a total disregard for the safety of citizens and the quality of our environment."
While the report focuses on Quebec, most of the pipelines also serve neighboring Ontario. Enbridge Inc.'s Line 9, the Portland-Montreal pipeline and a regional pipeline owned by Valero Energy Corp. were included in the study. The study found that Trans-Nord had eight spills totaling 938 barrels between 2004-2017, Line 9 spilled 55 barrels in 13 leaks, and Portland-Montreal had two reported spills of unknown quantity. The Valero line had no reported incidents or leaks. Line 9 and Portland-Montreal carry mostly raw crude oil.
Equiterre said the majority of leaks occurred on pipeline rights of way and that humans detected most of them, instead of the supervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA, systems that are widely used in the pipeline industry.