Pipeline giants Kinder Morgan and Enbridge are about to miss a six-month deadline from Canada’s National Energy Board to replace faulty components that industry insiders have been describing as “ticking time bombs”.
The NEB issued the emergency safety order in February, “eight years after U.S. regulators raised the alarm about substandard materials,” the National Observer reports. But five months later, the companies “are still not able to say exactly what they put into their pipeline infrastructure, and the NEB says it’s ‘appropriate’ to give them a few more months to prove the lines are safe.”
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The faulty components came from Canadoil Asia, a Thailand-based company that declared bankruptcy in 2014. “The crackdown followed a series of failures and warnings that date back to at least 2008, when U.S. regulators noticed that the industry was using substandard materials in pipelines that were cracking apart during testing,” the Observer notes. By the time the NEB issued its emergency order, Alberta-based TransCanada had also run into problems with defective materials in its pipelines, including one that ruptured in 2013.
While the companies and the NEB say there is no immediate threat of a major pipeline explosion, experienced pipeline engineers say they are losing faith in the industry and the regulator.
“There aren’t people in these big companies on staff any more who understand the fittings design or what they’re really doing with these things,” said retired engineer Dennis Maki, who spent more than 40 years in the pipeline industry. Purchasing departments are “going out and buying the stuff worldwide from the cheapest vendor, and what have you got? You’ve got, in a lot of cases, ticking time bombs.”
After engineers from Enbridge and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. staff began contacting the NEB for clarification of the February emergency order, three engineers from the Board “shifted the discussions off email, recommending instead that the industry and its regulators should pursue their interactions through a series of secret phone calls,” reports Observer energy specialist Mike De Souza. “The employee code of conduct requires NEB staff to document all discussions related to matters that are before the Board, such as a safety order, but they didn’t do so in this case.”