Exclusive: Gatekeeper of Canada's Energy East pipeline has mixed environmental record

Wed Apr 22, 2015 7:59am EDT
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By Richard Valdmanis and Dave Sherwood

(Reuters) - A company pivotal to Canada's most ambitious oil pipeline project has a mixed environmental record of spills and regulatory warnings, according to government documents reviewed by Reuters, a finding likely to bolster activist opposition to the proposal.

Family-owned Irving Oil, poised to build and operate the sole Atlantic export terminal for TransCanada's Energy East oil sands pipeline from Alberta, has logged at least 19 accidents classified by regulators as "environmental emergencies" at its existing facilities in eastern Canada since 2012, including three that drew warnings for delayed reporting.

Reuters gained access to New Brunswick Department of Environment incident records through a Right to Information Act request.

The lack of comparable data from similar energy companies leaves it unclear how the Irving record compares to the rest of the North American industry. Irving says it performs better on some measures than its peers, and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading its facilities. Environmental groups campaigning against Energy East say the documents show the company lags behind other operators.

"How they do in terms of preventing spills and how they manage them when they occur is hugely relevant to the discussion over whether Energy East should go ahead," said Catherine Abreu of the Ecology Action Centre, a non-profit environmental advocacy group that tracks energy facilities in eastern Canada.

According to the documents, Irving Oil's 300,000 barrel per day refinery and its associated storage terminals in the industrial city of Saint John, New Brunswick, have had environmental emergencies ranging from petroleum spills as big as 3,000 barrels, to smaller incidents such as refinery emissions of sulfur dioxide exceeding permitted levels.

( timeline of the spills: link.reuters.com/sax54w )

In one case in 2013, New Brunswick's Department of the Environment issued Irving a formal warning for taking more than a full day to report a storage tank leak of about 132 gallons of crude at its Canaport facility on the Bay of Fundy, near the site Irving is planning its terminal for Energy East.   Continued...