Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

December 7, 2015

Brian Gunn
CPE Spokesperson
Box 2160
Campbell River BC V9W 5C5
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Right Honourable Prime Minister Trudeau,

Re: Kinder Morgan Transmountain Expansion

Please allow me to introduce Concerned Professional Engineers (CPE). We are a group of registered Professional Engineers with significant experience in the design, construction, and operation of bulk export marine terminals in Canada and around the world.

As Professional Engineers, we understand that Canada’s oil industry requires an export route through Canada’s Pacific Coast in order to transport its valuable product to global markets. However, we also understand that these megaprojects – pipelines, terminals, and tanker shipping routes – pose significant risks to the safety of Canadians and to the health of our natural environment. A strong, independent, science-based review and oversight process is required to ensure that these projects realize desired benefits without exceeding reasonable thresholds for risk. .

We regret to inform you that the National Energy Board (NEB) has failed in its responsibility to implement such a process, particularly for the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan Transmountain projects. As intervenors in the review of the first project and as commenters for the second, we witnessed firsthand the flaws in the NEB’s process and we are alarmed to see so many critical issues left unaddressed. We are now deeply concerned by the threat that these projects, particularly their marine shipping aspects, pose to the safety of Canadians, Canada’s natural environment, and the taxpayer’s purse.

Below is a brief summary of our concerns:

  • The proponents’ own risk analyses state that there is a 10% probability in the 50-year lifetime of either project, of a marine spill greater than 5,000 cubic meters (for Northern Gateway) or 8,250 cubic meters (for Transmountain).       As a comparison, the April 2015 MV Marathassa spill into Vancouver’s English Bay was estimated to be 2.7 cubic meters.
  • Most alarmingly, the proponents’ risk analyses contain a number of serious and elementary flaws. For example, the most critical risk-scaling factor is, they admit, an assumption. Furthermore, the underlying data from which these probabilities are calculated are private and have not been made available for independent, public review. As such, we believe the probability of a major spill is likely to be considerably higher.
  •  A 10% probability of a major spill for each project is unacceptably high, especially given the inadequacy of the analysis, and we ask you to think of other industries that receive such a generous risk subsidy. To our knowledge, civil infrastructure, airplanes, and pharmaceuticals must all meet far more stringent criteria.
  • The product that will be transported, diluted bitumen, is substantially different from crude oil and very little is known about how it will behave when spilled into a marine environment. In fact, Environment Canada’s own scientists have repeatedly questioned whether it can be cleaned up effectively at all.
  • Finally, we are concerned that the funding structure currently in place to pay for a spill is woefully inadequate and Canadian taxpayers are heavily exposed to these risky projects. In contrast, the marine shipping industry is structured to limit its liability to the greatest extent possible.

In order to alert the NEB to these problems, CPE participated in the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel process and spent several hours cross-examining the proponent’s experts. It was our sincere hope that the NEB would include in its conditions of approval measures to further understand and eventually mitigate these risks. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing the NEB’s 209 conditions of approval, we realized that they had completely ignored our concerns and failed to address these issues in any meaningful way.

When the Transmountain review process was initiated, we again applied as intervenors, fearing similar issues. However, we were shocked to learn that the review process had been altered so that intervenors were no longer able to cross-examine the proponent’s witnesses under oath. In this case, all we were allowed to do was submit a Letter of Comment, which we did in the fall of 2014. Many other commenters withdrew from the process in frustration and valuable independent expertise was lost.

Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to reiterate that CPE supports the responsible development of Canada’s natural resources as a key driver of our prosperity.   To this end, we respectfully offer a number of suggestions as to how we believe these and future projects can be improved.

Most importantly, we ask that you restructure the NEB and the process by which it reviews these megaprojects. Specifically, we request that:

The NEB be held accountable to fulfill its mandate of reviewing projects in a fact-based, objective, and independent manner.

  • All analyses and supporting data be made open and transparent for public review or be disregarded.
  • Qualified, independent expert intervenors be given the opportunity to cross-examine proponents and their experts in order to fully explore their analyses, under oath and on record.
  • Megaprojects like Northern Gateway be reviewed not as a standalone projects, but in the context of other proposed developments that may pose an increased risk due to additional marine traffic.

Once the NEB has been re-formed, we request that it be tasked with revisiting the Northern Gateway and Transmountain projects with the goal of providing a truly independent, objective, and science-based analysis of the benefits and risks. Specifically, we request that the NEB review and report on the following items that are of particular concern:

  • The quantitative risk analyses performed by Det Norske Veritas GL (DNVGL) must be reviewed by independent experts who have access to the underlying proprietary database upon which the analyses are based. All critical assumptions should be carefully reviewed and justified. Proposed future projects should be included in the final analysis if they interact with the projects under review, for example by sharing waterways and terminals.
  • The risk analysis for the Transmountain project should be extended to include a detailed study of the risk and impact of a tanker colliding with either of the two major bridges that span Burrard Inlet and link Vancouver and North Vancouver. (One of our members, Ricardo Foschi, provided such an analysis to the NEB in a letter of comment in the fall of 2014.)
  • Environment Canada and other leading scientific bodies should be consulted to provide the most current understanding of whether and to what extent diluted bitumen can be recovered from a marine environment.       If necessary, large-scale testing should be performed to determine the adequacy of existing spill-recovery methods in dealing with this product.
  • A more thorough and open analysis of the potential clean up costs for a marine spill must be conducted. This analysis should take into account the uncertainty regarding the ability to recover spilled diluted bitumen and the implications of an extended clean up effort as submerged bitumen disperses and resurfaces over a period of years or even decades.
  • The findings from the above reviews must be made broadly available to all Canadians, in plain terms that can be understood by the general public.       To provide just one example, ‘return periods’ should be translated into more relevant and familiar probabilities for a spill during the projects’ estimated lifetimes.

Finally, and we believe this point merits special consideration as it has recently been raised by the Premier of Alberta; alternate locations for the marine terminals must be seriously considered for both Northern Gateway and Transmountain. CPE and a number of other groups have proposed terminal locations that we believe would dramatically lower the likelihood of a major marine spill. For Northern Gateway, moving the terminal from Kitimat to Prince Rupert or preferably to Port Simpson would eliminate the need for supertankers to navigate 220 km of narrow fjords in the pristine Great Bear Rainforest, a waterway that will be shared every year by several hundred liquefied natural gas tankers. For Transmountain, moving the terminal from the confined Burrard inlet to Roberts Bank, where there is already a coal superport and a container terminal, would provide a clearer route to the open ocean and allow for larger vessels to be used, cutting the number of vessels by a factor of four. Additionally, relocating the tank farm from a densely populated urban area to a more remote industrial setting would dramatically reduce the consequences of a fire or spill due to an earthquake or terrorist attack.

These alternatives have been proposed to the NEB, Enbridge, and Kinder Morgan many times, and each time have been disregarded without a thorough review or response. Kinder Morgan has stated that moving its Burnaby terminal to Point Roberts would cost an additional $1.2 billion. While we understand that this is a considerable increase in cost, we would like to point out that this corresponds to just $0.11 per barrel of product transported over the fifty-year life of the project, and when compared to the ‘bitumen bubble’, the supposed discounted price Alberta producers receive because of constricted transportation, is a small additional increase that would substantially improve safety and encourage buy-in from those exposed to the risks.

Canada is uniquely situated to take advantage of its tremendous endowment of petroleum resources while ensuring the preservation of its environment for all Canadians, now and in the future. We encourage your government to consider the above proposals that we believe will make these projects more sustainable and, over the long run, more profitable.


Brian Gunn, Spokesperson
Concerned Professional Engineers