Good morning, honourable members. Mesdames et messieurs les députés, bonjour.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss oil and gas pipelines in Canada.
The National Energy Board, known as the NEB, looks after more than 70,000 kilometres of oil and natural gas pipelines. Pipelines that are built, operated, and maintained in accordance with our regulatory requirements are inherently safe. The majority of pipelines are buried below ground. Canadians live, work, and travel safely over them every day, and may never even realize they are there.
Pipeline materials, construction, and operations are governed by requirements set out by the Canadian Standards Association and the NEB in its regulations and conditions. These requirements place a heavy emphasis on quality throughout the life cycle of the project. From the testing of chemical and mechanical properties when the pipe is made, to the extent of non-destructive examination of welds during construction, and the type and frequency of testing when in operation, all of these are subject to NEB scrutiny.
The NEB holds the companies it regulates accountable for the safety of their facilities and for the protection of the environment in which they operate. Our safety programs are designed to make sure companies are effective in managing safety and environmental protection throughout the entire life cycle of a pipeline—from design to construction, operation and through to abandonment.
As we audit and inspect for compliance, we look for evidence of management systems that provide a strong foundation for a pervasive culture of safety, forcefully affirmed by the organization's leadership, rigorously documented in writing, known to all employees, and consistently implemented in the field.
Every year we publish a report entitled “Focus on Safety and Environment”. In its most recent edition, we report that worker serious injury rates are low and are continuing to drop. No member of the general public was injured by an NEB-regulated pipeline during the nine-year period of the review and for many years before we began to publish the report. Environmental impacts of leaks have been localized and fully remediated in compliance with our requirements, guided by international best practices. This is our record when you look at the concrete outcomes of the work we do implementing the National Energy Board Act as an independent expert regulator reporting to Parliament.
We are committed to continual improvement, and we are taking further action to improve results in the four pillars of safety and environmental protection. There is a diagram in my opening remarks you can refer to that shows those four pillars: worker safety, damage prevention, emergency preparedness and response, and integrity of installations.
Although the number of pipeline failures is very low, we send our inspectors to the site of all pipeline ruptures. We collaborate with other authorities, such as the Transportation Safety Board, known as the TSB. We also work on preventing ruptures through audits, inspections, and board orders. In a few instances, the board has ordered a company to reduce its operating pressure until such time as the company can demonstrate that the integrity and operation of the pipeline system is sound at the full operating pressure.
When the board sees an increase in incidents such as the stress corrosion cracking ruptures in the 1990s, we take a leadership role in identifying the causes and ordering that measures be taken for the continued safe operation of pipelines. As can be seen in the graph included in the opening remarks, our intervention in the mid-nineties in the stress corrosion cracking inquiry caused a significant reduction in the number of ruptures under our jurisdiction. The lessons learned have been used in other jurisdictions. The increase in ruptures in 2009 appears to have been a one-year phenomenon, but we keep a close eye on any emerging trend. Studies continue to confirm that pipelines operate more safely than any other mode of transportation of hydrocarbons.
We utilize a risk-informed approach when assessing projects and setting requirements for pipelines. We methodically assess the risk to public and worker safety and to the environment. This allows us to most effectively manage NEB resources and properly prioritize our activities throughout the life cycle of facilities.
In the application phase of the project, we assess whether the project is in the public interest. If so, we assess whether the project can be built and operated safely and in a manner that protects people and the environment.
In the planning phase, industry must meet our regulatory requirements in order to design and plan a project appropriately. Companies are required to demonstrate meaningful public involvement and consultation.
If we approve a project, we can attach any conditions we see fit in the public interest, and our role doesn't stop there. We monitor and verify compliance with requirements during the construction and operation phases of the project.
Our oversight also includes the abandonment of a pipeline. Companies must prove that the applied-for abandonment plan can be conducted safely while protecting the environment at the time of abandonment and beyond.
Despite our regulatory oversight, incidents, although infrequent, can still happen. This is the case in any jurisdiction for any mode of transportation. The NEB's priorities in any emergency are the safety of people and the protection of property and the environment. The NEB has an emergency management program in place and is ready to respond to an emergency situation at all times. We also have working agreements with other government departments and agencies in order to coordinate responses and communicate effectively in times of crisis.
Any time there is a serious incident, the NEB oversees the regulated company's immediate and ongoing response and cleanup. We require that all reasonable actions be taken to protect employees, the public, and the environment. We verify that the company conducts to our satisfaction a cleanup and remediation of environmental effects caused by the incident.
We maintain an emergency operations centre in Calgary to coordinate our field staff at the incident site, and to provide situation reports to the Government of Canada’s emergency operations centre here in Ottawa.
We hold companies accountable for anticipating, preventing, mitigating, and managing incidents of any size or duration. NEB enforcement activities range from notification and opportunities for voluntary compliance, to reduction of operating pressure of a pipeline, potential suspension of authorizations, or revocation of operating licences. Offences can also be prosecuted.
Where the board finds that safety can be improved, it takes the necessary actions to have the situation rectified. We have the authority to shut down the pipeline company's operation. Failures or serious injuries must be reported to the board by law. The board requires companies to conduct their own investigations and submit their results. In serious cases we will conduct our own investigation.
The TSB may also investigate and make determinations of the causes of the failure. The board reviews the findings of all TSB investigations and takes action to ensure that recommendations are acted upon.
In closing, I believe that Parliament, by passing the National Energy Board Act in 1959, provided Canadians with a national institution well equipped when it comes to pipelines to ensure safety, and to protect the environment and their communities. Our record, in terms of positive trends in our key indicators and the action we take when we see the emergence of an unwanted trend, speaks for itself.
Like any serious safety regulator, we are never totally happy with our results. Every day the 400 people working at the NEB look for ways to continually improve our methods and our results. Canadians expect no less.
I will be pleased to answer your questions with the assistance of my two colleagues, Mr. Patrick Smyth, business leader of operations at the NEB, and Mr. Iain Colquhoun, our chief engineer.
Once again, thank you, honourable members, for the opportunity to speak to you today about the NEB's commitment to continued pipeline safety.