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Engineers question NEB’s Northern Gateway math

A group of professional engineers is questioning the National Energy Board’s decision to approve the Northern Gateway project’s shipping of diluted bitumen from the western terminus at Kitimat, British Columbia (B.C.) to the open...


A group of professional engineers is questioning the National Energy Board’s decision to approve the Northern Gateway project’s shipping of diluted bitumen from the western terminus at Kitimat, British Columbia (B.C.) to the open ocean.

The Concerned Professional Engineers (CPE) has raised concerns over financial responsibility for spills, inadequacy of the Quantitative Risk Analysis, transportation risks, and the potential for oil spills in the confined channel between Kitimat (northwest coast of B.C.) and the open ocean.

“The National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel (JRP) was irresponsible in its decision to approve the project,” says Brian Gunn, spokesperson for CPE. “They ignored testimony and evidence and simply accepted assurances from Northern Gateway that the risks of a major oil spill were small. We had hoped they would address our concerns in their 209 conditions of approval, but we haven’t seen anything that answers our questions,” added Gunn.

To substantiate its claims, CPE released a series of three “risk-focused” white papers on March 12, 2014. CPE says it’s hopeful these white papers will alert British Columbians, Albertans and other Canadians that the project, specifically the shipment of heavy oil by tankers on the B.C. coast, carries significant risks.

Gunn claims that the group is not opposed to the development of natural resources, nor to their transit through British Columbia.

“We’ve spent our careers in engineering working on resource-related projects, that’s why we have the expertise to perform this analysis,” says Gunn. “We understand that resource development is important to Canada and that shipment through BC is required to reach international markets,” he adds, noting that these kinds of projects should not be rushed through without the proper review.

CPE is critical of the JRP’s approval of the project in December, 2013, claiming that they failed to live up to their mandate of conducting a thorough, science-based analysis of the proposal. 

“Northern Gateway’s own calculations show that there is a nine per cent chance of a major spill on the BC coast,” says Gunn. “We went through their math to figure out how they came up with this number, and at the root of it all we found a bunch of unjustified assumptions.  This is not how complicated engineering projects are done.”

Gunn says it was the JRP’s responsibility to investigate these assumptions, something he claims they failed to do. 

“Canadians shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security just because this project has been approved by the National Energy Board. Enbridge talks about how the 209 conditions are very tough and how they’re going to build a world class oil spill response. But none of those statements mean anything unless someone is investigating the details. The JRP failed to do that.”

The white papers can be found at CPE’s website (www.concernedengineers.org) along with maps and images supporting the CPE position.


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