Canadian Manufacturing

Whistleblower slams NEB safety audit of TransCanada as ‘toothless’

Former TransCanada pipeline engineer said watchdog not going far enough to prevent pipeline breaks

CALGARY—The whistleblower who sparked a National Energy Board (NEB) audit of TransCanada Corp.’s safety practices has lashed out against the energy watchdog for its “toothless” review.

Former TransCanada pipeline engineer Evan Vokes criticized the audit released late last month and said the NEB is not going far enough to prevent pipeline breaks.

“Unless the NEB is willing to engage on-the-ground to ensure that TransCanada is actually constructing and maintaining pipelines that are safe, future ruptures are inevitable,” Vokes said in a statement released by lawyers representing him.

The audit of the Calgary-based firm’s safety practices found TransCanada was non-compliant in four out of nine areas, including: hazard identification, risk assessment and control; operational control in upset or abnormal operating condition; inspection, measurement and monitoring; and management review.

However, the board said a finding of non-compliance does not necessarily mean there’s an immediate safety hazard.

TransCanada is now required to file a corrective action plan with the NEB within 30 days detailing how it intends to fix the problems.

Vokes, though, said he is concerned that the audit leaves a number of safety concerns unaddressed.

“In my experience, TransCanada’s management failings are systemic, and cannot be fixed by a review of what TransCanada says its policies are on paper,” he said. “Time and again, TransCanada’s audit systems have failed to catch substandard engineering on its pipelines.”

Vokes’ statement issued by his lawyers claims the former TransCanada employee “specifically raised red flags regarding the strength of welds” along one of the company’s pipelines in northern Alberta.

He also raised similar concerns regarding the existing Canadian section of TransCanada’s Keystone XL project, claiming the pipeline doesn’t meet design standards.

The statement goes on to allege the company modified its internal guidelines outlining what it considers an “acceptable risk” after Vokes brought the issues up with management.

The NEB acknowledged a former TransCanada employee came forward with allegations of safety lapses, though it did not name the employee or specify what those allegations surrounded.

It did say it is investigating certain steel pipe and fittings on the existing Keystone system “with the potential to exhibit lower than specified yield strength.”

The audit comes as TransCanada awaits a decision from the United States government on the fate of the controversial US$5.4-billion pipeline that would move Alberta oilsands crude to Gulf Coast refineries.

—With files from The Canadian Press

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