TransCanada Q&A

TransCanada holds open houses in Kenora from time to time.  This page lists some of the questions asked by members of our group, along with the answers we’ve received from TransCanada staff at these open houses.

Operational Questions TransCanada Answer
How will Energy East affect TransCanada’s local staffing levels? Staffing levels seem to be very contentious. Formal clarification was requested but not delivered. The incremental number of permanent staff would be only 180 across the entire system. As mentioned above, local employment might or might not increase. Not a strong argument in favour of Energy East.
What will be pumped through the pipeline? The engineering staff seemed extremely sure of the operating model, and proud of how easy it will be to transport product. “We” (the non-technical observers) tend to think of the Energy East project as monolithic and pushing dilbit exclusively from one end to the other on a continuous basis. In reality, TransCanada sees itself as a transportation system similar to a railroad and will move “product” in well defined batches, typically of 200,000 barrels. These batches may be any liquid compatible with moving through a pipeline. They will be separate and identified throughout the transport phase. In addition, each batch will have its own Material Safety Data Sheet “MSDS” (not clear as to what party provides the MSDS….. shipper or carrier) and this will travel with the batch and be available “immediately” in case of leak, rupture, or other emergency such as fire. While transport of dilbit likely had only a moderate risk of fire/explosion, by transporting other petroleum based material, TransCanada would expose the pipeline to a higher likelihood of that type of failure.
What’s the chemical composition of the product that will be shipped? It is worthwhile noting that the “Emergency Response” staff had made a point of emphasizing that a spill of product from the liquid pipeline might involve local fire department personnel. They were clear that a responder would require SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) and would need to monitor vapour concentrations….. because the material contains known carcinogens and might also contain hydrogen sulphide (highly toxic at low concentrations). Not likely that both attitudes (see above) are compatible.
Where will the pumping stations be? The plan is to construct completely independent pumping stations for the liquid product (independent of the gas system). Each of these would require at least 20 acres of land, and might not be located at the same sites as the existing compressor stations if they (TransCanada) cannot secure additional property. There would be 7 pumping stations between the MB border and Thunder Bay. The design of the pipeline calls for an operating temperature of 40 to 50 degrees centigrade. I assume that that requires considerable energy input.   (see below: How will pumping stations be powered?)
How much power will each pumping station require? 15-23 MW, which is apparently less electricity than is required for the existing natural gas pressure stations that operate at 30-35 MW each.
How will the pumping stations be powered?   What’s the source for the electricity? The stations proposed for Kenora, Vermilion Bay and Dryden will be powered off the existing electrical grid. TransCanada is not responsible for figuring out how this demand can be met – that is Hydro’s job. The head engineer was unable to name a contact at Hydro One who could answer any of my questions, and he did not have anyone at Hydro with whom he has been working on this matter, but he assured me that “someone is working on it.” He offered to look into it for me so I left my contact info, but it’s been a nearly a month and I haven’t heard back yet. The four pumping stations between Ignace and Thunder Bay will be powered by natural gas.
How will natural gas supply east of Thunder Bay be affected in light of Energy East drawing off gas to power its pumping stations in the Northwest? Even though 1 out of 4 lines is being removed from service for the oil pipeline, and now four additional pumping stations of 15-23 MW each are going to be added to the demand on the remaining three lines, I was assured it would be fine, no problem, and that the new pressure stations will draw less than the existing pressure stations – largely irrelevant, but I suppose notionally interesting.
What are TransCanada’s plans for recovering diluent from Maritime refineries and shipping this product back to Alberta? No one knew much, if anything, about this. One person said that the diluent wasn’t going to be recovered but would be shipped out with the product, or else it would get made into something else (some other product) at the refinery. Another person said that it was getting shipped back via pipeline, but could not specify / identify which pipeline would perform this function.   They all said that they were sure it wasn’t going to be shipped anywhere by rail, but that they really didn’t know anything about this aspect of the process.
Emergency & Disaster Response Questions
How much liability insurance will be carried? $1 billion as required by NEB guidelines (which were criticized when announced). Seems like a lot until you recall that the Kalamazoo spill is well north of $1 billion and counting.
What happens when the damn thing breaks? TC will NOT have a designated response team. Rather, the plan is to train (retrain?) local staff to respond. They were conflicted as to how many staff would be available! There would be 10 – 15 fulltime regular staff from the Manitoba border to Ignace (pretty much the present compliment). I would emphasize that no specialized emergency response crews are to be standing by waiting for an incident. TransCanada is planning to have caches of “specialized” equipment loaded in tractor trailer units to move to the site of a spill/rupture. One staff said that this equipment would/could be supplied to local first responders like fire departments, while another said “absolutely not!” No one addressed the case of restricted road access. They finally agreed that these equipment caches would be at pumping stations, but not necessarily all stations. The targeted response time……. defined by TransCanada as how long it would take for a (single) TransCanada employee to reach a problem…… is one hour. This does not mean that the company is not taking other action. The entire system will be run from their existing Calgary control centre. Whenever a problem is detected by the system (i.e. pressure anomalies, public reporting, etc.) the operator has a maximum of ten minutes to take action (this is simply a policy…. no other control). I was told that all the central control operators have the authority to do an immediate shutdown of the system. Sounds reasonable, but would be open to human error/judgement….. if an operator shuts down the system in error, I bet they don’t get a gold star.
What is the plan for creating an Emergency Response Plan? On repeated questioning, the company does not yet have an emergency response plan, but they do have a plan for a plan. The engineering folks implied that the response plan would be comprised of a series of local plans which would take into account all local conditions such as access, terrain, major local risks like water or cultural values. The plan will be filed with the NEB 6 months prior to commencement of operations. It will not be “public”, but will be available for inspection from local emergency organizations…… fire, police, local government.
How much product could spill in the event of a rupture? There was a bit of an argument about just how much “product” might be spilled by a rupture. Shut-off valves would be installed every 20 to 30 km. That is a lot of material potentially to drain out. One staff stated categorically that extra shut-off valves would be located within 500 to 700 metres of any water crossing, while another said that there was no plan to add extra valves.
How would TransCanada contain and treat a dilbit spill? One engineering staff (Tammy?) pretty much laughed at my naive assertion that dilbit would present different challenges in the event of a spill. To paraphrase, “TransCanada has learned a whole bunch from previous spill/explosion/rupture incidents and has prepared itself to handle ANY contingency!!!!” She went on to say that spilled dilbit would behave like any other oil and could be contained and cleaned up using the same techniques (that have previously failed?). She also said that dilbit would not sink in cold water, and that it had to “weather” before turning to a semi-solid state. These assertions appear to contradict recent experience.

 

 

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