Onus for oil spill no clearer

In the aftermath of the July 24 North Burnaby oil spill, the biggest piece of the puzzle remains missing, according to the executive director of a nonprofit group focused on pipeline safety. Carl Weimer, of the Bellingham-based Pipeline Safety Trust, told the Georgia Straight that pipeline operator Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. has gone all out to address the immediate effects of the incident. However, Weimer alleged that the company has avoided the issue of who is actually responsible for the accident.

"From what I've read, Kinder Morgan is probably offering people money to make everybody happy at this point, but they're certainly not taking responsibility," Weimer said. "They'd rather get them addressed early and make people happy than end up in litigation or in court, because often the costs go up then."

Weimer suggested that Kinder Morgan is taking this stance in the "hope that they can pass those claims on to a different responsible party, although that's unclear so far".

"I think they're trying to address the cleanup and they're trying to make sure that property owners' claims get addressed quickly so everybody can move on," Weimer said. "But I think they're very careful in saying–so far I haven't seen them say–that it was their fault that the pipeline was hit."

In 1999, a Shell gasoline pipeline exploded in Bellingham, killing three young boys. A U.S. judge ordered $4 million of the criminal fines set aside to fund the establishment of the Pipeline Safety Trust.

On July 26, the Straight reported that under federal regulations, a pipeline operator is responsible for pinpointing the location of its line before any third party can start work on or around the facility. The same guidelines also provide that a representative of the pipeline operator be present during the construction.

Kinder Morgan spokesperson Philippe Reicher acknowledged to the Straight in a July 30 phone interview that the presence of their inspector on work sites is required. "As a matter of procedure, we have a Kinder Morgan inspector when we have a third party excavate in and around a pipeline," Reicher said. "A Kinder Morgan representative has to be there to ensure that the proper procedures are followed."

Reicher, however, said he doesn't know whether or not there was a Kinder Morgan inspector on-site when an excavator from B. Cusano Contracting Inc., a firm that does work for the City of Burnaby, punctured the pipeline beneath Inlet Drive near the corner of Barnet Highway and East Hastings Street.

Reicher also said that he couldn't provide further comment on this specific concern because the federal Transportation Safety Board has started its investigation into the accident.

Asked what affected residents can expect from Kinder Morgan, he said: "The idea is that we want to bring the neighbourhood back to the way it was before the incident, so we'll do whatever it takes to do that."

Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan told the Straight that Kinder Morgan has been "excellent in the aftermath" of the incident. "They've had people cleaning up and making sure there's no further damage," he said.

Corrigan also noted that the Transportation Safety Board will have to sort out the circumstances that led to the bursting of the pipeline. He pointed out, though, that according to city staff and the contractor, the pipeline was not in the location indicated on the map provided by Kinder Morgan.

"The way the policies and procedures work here are that you are not to rely on the map in order to determine it," Corrigan said. "You have to contact Kinder Morgan and have a Kinder Morgan inspector come out and physically observe the site, and the Kinder Morgan representative will give the okay with regard to doing the necessary roadwork."

Reicher said that 80 percent of the 232,000 litres of crude oil that escaped from the pipeline has been recovered, but according to Darrell Desjardin, director of environmental programs for the Vancouver Port Authority, oil continues to flow into Burrard Inlet.

"There's still a lot of product, or a lot of oil, still on the uplands, still on the sewer lines, and actually coming down from the ravines as well," Desjardin told the Straight in a July 30 phone interview. "We're still in the response stage."

Desjardin said it will take "several weeks" to clean up oiled shorelines.

"What they're doing right now is actually assessing the different cleanup methods of the oiled beaches," he said. "It's probably going to go on for some time. Once we actually have a method identified and see how easy it is, or hard, to remove the oil from some of these areas, we'll have a better idea of when the cleanup will be complete."

The damaged pipeline has been repaired and oil has started to flow again, according to Reicher.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline system extends into Bellingham. Weimer said that some Bellingham residents are worried that the company is "trying to increase the capacity of the pipeline by increasing pressure in it".

"There are some concerns that if you have a 50-year-old pipeline and you're trying to move more and more oil out of Alberta through that pipeline, there is going to be greater impacts on communities," Weimer said. "I think that's something that needs to be looked at."