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NEB oversight of pipeline safety still needs improvement: audit

Environment commissioner makes six recommendations


(Canadian OH&S News) — A new report from the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) has concluded that the National Energy Board (NEB) has made some progress in improving pipeline oversight, but that there are still weaknesses in its efforts to monitor the safety of company operations.

Introducing the report in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Jan. 26, CESD Julie Gelfand said that the NEB needed to do more to keep pace with a changing world. “The public interest has evolved to include matters such as climate change and the impacts on communities, including Aboriginal groups,” said Gelfand, according to a transcript available on the Office of the Auditor General’s website. “The safe transportation of oil and gas is critical to Canadians, for economic, social and environmental reasons.”

Gelfand, whose report had resulted from a fall 2015 audit, elaborated that the NEB had an outdated and inefficient tracking system for pipeline approval conditions and follow-ups on oil companies that had violated safety regulations.

“The Board sets the requirements that companies must satisfy to ensure that pipelines operate safely. Our audit concluded that the Board did not adequately track company implementation of these requirements,” said Gelfand. “We also concluded that the Board has been facing challenges to recruit and retain specialists in areas such as pipeline integrity and regulatory compliance.”

Gelfand’s report made six recommendations, four of which involved improvements of the NEB’s systems for documentation and managing data. The CESD also recommended that the NEB review its staffing challenges with the aim of resolving them and consolidate risk-assessment activities into one comprehensive document.

“Overall, there was progress in some areas, such as providing more access to information on incidents and compliance,” Gelfand wrote in the report. “The Board has improved its review of company emergency-procedures manuals since our last audit and enhanced public access to information on pipeline incidents.”

In a Jan. 26 news release, the NEB said that it welcomed the CESD’s recommendations and would comprehensively address all of Gelfand’s findings by the end of the year.

“The NEB had identified the same areas for improvement and has already completed work on many of the recommendations,” NEB chair and CEO Peter Watson said in a press statement. “An action plan is in place.”

Watson added that the Board always enforced and monitored company compliance with approval conditions, as evaluated by NEB staff and members. “The audit makes recommendations regarding the documentation of this work, and the NEB took immediate action after speaking to the CESD last year to begin rectifying this issue.”

Gelfand’s report is available online at http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_cesd_201601_02_e_41021.html.