(Canadian OH&S News) — Following a series of whistleblower allegations about safety-code violations involving natural-gas pipelines, the National Energy Board (NEB) has begun an investigation into the practices of TransCanada Corp.
NEB spokesperson Darin Barter confirmed that the corporation was being probed, but could not provide specific details, due in part to an obligation to keep the whistleblower anonymous. Reuters reported on March 19 that the allegations included poor repair work, inept welding and failure to report important safety issues, but Barter could not confirm this.
“Both the whistleblower and the NEB, we both agree that there are no public-safety or environmental concerns brought forward, but certainly some allegations that warranted investigation for compliance with regulations,” Barter said. “They’re unproven claims at this point.
“I can’t say much because it is under investigation,” he added.
The NEB notified TransCanada of the allegations on Feb. 27, according to Mark Cooper, a spokesperson for the company.
“None posed either an immediate or long-term threat to the public or our assets,” said Cooper, referring to the allegations. “Nonetheless, each and every allegation we receive is taken seriously.”
Cooper added that while TransCanada didn’t know the identity of the whistleblower, many of these allegations had already been raised and investigated internally. “We are working diligently to gather all of the relevant information to address each of these allegations for the NEB. We share the NEB’s focus on protecting the safety of the public, our workers and the environment, and we are working as quickly as possible on this process to provide information.”
This isn’t the first time that Canada’s national energy regulator has investigated TransCanada over safety concerns. Last year alone, the NEB received eight complaints from individuals across the country. In 2012, a TransCanada engineer named Evan Vokes left the company after raising a series of allegations regarding risk assessment, inspections and management review; these allegations led to a major NEB audit.
“We do encourage people to bring these allegations forward,” said Barter. “We do investigate every one of them, and every one is taken seriously.”
Cooper maintained that TransCanada also took safety concerns seriously and had an industry-leading record to back up the claim. He cited an incident rate of 0.114 per thousand kilometres of pipeline per year, which he said was lower than the average incident rates in Canada and all of Europe.
“TransCanada has spent an average of $900 million per year over the last three years on pipeline integrity and preventative-maintenance programs,” said Cooper. “We invested more than $90 million over the last five years in research and development related to pipeline safety technologies and $38 million in 2014 alone.” The company is planning to perform 150 inline pipeline inspections this year, he added.
If TransCanada fails to comply with safety regulations, it could face one of a wide range of penalties, including monetary fines and/or shutdown of a facility or pipeline, Barter explained.
“There’s varying degrees of enforcement that we can apply, and we will, if it’s warranted,” he said. “It could go up as high as we determine we need to go. It could be something more simple and correctable, such as an action plan.” For example, the NEB could demand that TransCanada correct a series of safety issues within 30 days, Barter noted.
Cooper said that the corporation already dealt with safety concerns on its own. “We encourage employees to feel comfortable reporting any breaches and retain an independent company to log and track incidents,” he said. “Should anyone be uncomfortable speaking to any of these resources or prefer to remain anonymous, the Ethics Help Line is another resource for reporting or seeking guidance.
“We will not tolerate anything that undermines the safety and reliability of our facilities.”