Shortly after Roland Willson became chief of the West Moberly First Nations in northern British Columbia, he responded to an oil spill where a ruptured pipeline had poured more than 6,000 barrels of crude into Pine River.
Chief Willson said he had flashbacks of that 2000 accident recently when he saw how high water had torn up heavy concrete mats protecting two pipelines crossing a creek in the same general region as the Pine River spill.
“When I stumbled across this pipeline exposed in the creek, all those nightmares came back … that was the first thing that came in my head,” said Chief Willson, who has written a letter to government and industry expressing his concerns about pipeline safety.
Spectra Energy, Pembina Pipeline Corp. and the BC Oil and Gas Commission all say the exposed pipelines in Angusmac Creek are not of immediate concern and appropriate steps are being taken to remedy the situation.
But Chief Willson, whose letter underlines the growing public vigilance of pipeline issues in B.C., said the incident is a reminder that while several new projects are proposed in the province, there is already an existing infrastructure that needs to be watched.
“They are not addressing the old problems, but they are adding on possible new problems,” he said.
Chief Willson said he was hunting when he came to Angusmac Creek and saw the exposed pipelines. He said the current was eroding the creek bed around the pipelines.
“There was enough water running in the creek to roll that big concrete mat into a ball. Now if it can do that with a 5,000-pound mat, what’s it going to do to a 12-inch pipe laying in the water?” he asked. “They are saying there was no [safety] issue, but an exposed pipe can’t be good.”
In his letter to government and industry, Chief Willson sought assurance that the problem was being looked at.
“We have experienced the devastation of an oil spill before,” he wrote. “This is a disaster waiting to happen. It frightens us to think what might have happened if we did not find this problem and the 2014 spring runoff occurred. The current system Canada and B.C. are using clearly does not adequately protect the land and the people that rely on it for cultural subsistence.”
But industry representatives said they were aware of the situation at Angusmac Creek before Chief Willson wrote and repair work had long been planned.
“Pembina is absolutely committed to the health, safety and environmental stewardship of our pipelines throughout their life,” said Shawn Davis, manager of communications for Pembina Pipeline Corp.
She said the company became aware of the problem in 2011, did some mitigation work in 2012 by placing heavy, ArmorFlex concrete mats in the stream to protect the pipes. Then spring runoff tore up some of the mats.
“And so through the summer … we’ve been monitoring the location and we have plans in place to restore the ArmorFlex matting and restore the cover for the pipeline this fall,” she said. “The reason we couldn’t do it earlier is because we had to wait until the water levels had decreased so it would be safe to complete the work.”
Gary Weilinger, vice-president, external affairs, for Spectra Energy, said the pipeline right of way is occupied by Pembina and the two companies had discussed the problem. Pembina is taking the lead on repairs.
“Pembina was not concerned. We had done an engineering assessment and it’s largely cosmetic,” he said. “Our pipeline itself is not in any risk or danger.”
Hardy Friedrich, a spokesman for the BC Oil and Gas Commission, said inspectors were sent to the site the day after the West Moberly First Nations letter arrived.
“The Commission and Canada’s National Energy Board are working to ensure the crossing is properly restored in accordance with both federal and provincial requirements,” he stated in an e-mail.