Canada's largest pipeline company, Enbridge, says it suspended work on an expansion project in the Rocky Mountain foothills of northeastern British Columbia to address safety and environmental issues identified during an inspection.
An Enbridge spokesman made the comments after Canada's federal pipeline regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB), ordered a halt to unsafe pipeline construction practices that were caught during an inspection of the Spectra Energy Transmission project last week.
The safety and environmental issues were identified about six months after Enbridge announced in March that it was cutting about 1,000 jobs or about six per cent of its work force following its takeover of Houston-based Spectra Energy.
Enbridge completed its acquisition of Spectra in February 2017. The two companies had said that they expected to achieve annual savings of about $540 million through the takeover deal, with Enbridge's chief executive Al Monaco remaining as head of the new company.
The Canadian regulator said an inspection officer spotted the unsafe practices during field inspections of the High Pine Expansion Project near Chetwynd, B.C. on Sept. 13. The expansion, originally a Spectra project, would extend an existing natural gas transmission system.
When asked to comment on the safety allegations, an Enbridge spokesman said the company was "diligently complying with the requirements identified by the National Energy Board (NEB)" related to the High Pine Expansion project.
"We take these issues very seriously and have already addressed all the site-specific concerns identified during the NEB inspections conducted in August," said Enbridge spokesman Jesse Semko in an email to National Observer. "We voluntarily shut down work on the project last week to address the remaining issue with the Enbridge employees and construction contractors that was identified in a September inspection. We are also developing a corrective action plan that will be implemented by September 26. We take full responsibility to remain in compliance and are taking decisive action to address the NEB’s concerns."
When asked about impacts of Enbridge's takeover of Spectra on the recent safety issues, Semko said that "the workforce reductions addressed areas of overlap within the combined organization and did not impact this project."
NEB inspection found alleged violations
The High Pine expansion is among several major projects under development by Enbridge, including an expansion of its Line 3 crude oil pipeline. The Line 3 expansion, described by Enbridge as the largest infrastructure project in its history, is touted by industry as an important expansion to promote jobs and growth in Canada's slumping oilpatch, by giving producers more access to the American market.
But Line 3 has also generated some fierce opposition from environmental groups, Indigenous people and local U.S. communities who live along its route and are concerned about spills and the impact of the project on greenhouse gas emissions.
An NEB inspection of the High Pine expansion found a series of alleged violations, including the failure to follow rules in place for the construction of bridges over water courses, or the channel that a body of water flows down.
"The Inspection Officer has reasonable grounds to believe there exists a serious hazard and threat to the safety of project personnel as (the company) and contractor(s) have not demonstrated safe pipe-handling and hauling procedures," said an order signed by an NEB inspection officer.
"Based on the above mentioned, the inspection officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a hazard to the safety or security of the public, or employees of a company or a detriment to property or the environment is being or will be caused by construction, operation, maintenance or abandonment of the pipeline, or excavation activity or construction of a facility..."
When asked about staffing and the merger, an NEB spokesman, Darin Barter, said that the regulator expects "that the company manages its business in a way that prioritizes safety and environmental protection."
Spectra warned by NEB before Enbridge takeover
This is not the first time that Spectra projects have been identified for safety issues by the Canadian regulator.
In July 2015, the NEB ordered the company, prior to its takeover by Enbridge, to clean up its practices and correct a series of "management system failures" following more than two dozen safety and security incidents at its Canadian operations since 2014.
The regulator had also issued more than $100,000 in fines to Spectra last year and warned that more could follow if the company failed to abide by safety orders, Reuters reported in July 2015.
In terms of the latest safety issues, the NEB said it issued three separate safety orders against Spectra on Aug. 24, Aug. 27 and Sept. 13. But it said that the new pipeline was posing no immediate environmental or public safety concerns.