CBC safety concerns challenged

Russ Girling photo

TransCanada Corporation President and CEO Russ Girling.

Numerous stories have aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation this week that have challenged TransCanada’s commitment to pipeline safety and compliance with national regulations. As someone whose number one priority is the safety of our employees, the public and the environment, and expects TransCanada to go above and beyond when it comes to building safe and reliable infrastructure, this concerns me. I would like to set the record straight by directly sharing my perspective on this issue.

First, TransCanada has an industry-leading safety record building and operating pipelines across North America for more than 60 years. This will not be compromised for any reason. The safety of the public and our employees is always our first priority, and we have numbers to prove it. At 0.099 incidents per thousand kilometre-years of pipeline, our gas pipeline incident rate is lower than the U.S., Canadian and European averages. Our Keystone oil pipeline, for example, has experienced zero pipeline-related spill incidents since it began operation in 2010. The few leaks that have occurred on Keystone have all occurred at our pump station properties and were related to leakage from small-diameter fittings and seals located above ground. All of these leaks were small in volume and were quickly cleaned up with no environmental impact.

Second, the quality, safety and inspection standards we adhere to on all of our projects are truly among the best in the world. We have led the way in the use of high-strength steels and the latest corrosion-resistant coatings. We require every weld made on our pipelines to be inspected by qualified independent inspectors. We are the only company in North America that regularly uses automated ultrasonic testing of our pipes to look for defects before they go into service. Following that, they undergo hydrostatic testing to ensure they can safely hold water under high-pressure. Then we use a high-resolution, in-line inspection tool, known as a smart pig, which travels through a pipeline to measure and test for any defects. Once a pipeline is approved for service and begins operation, it is monitored around-the-clock at our pipeline control centre and is regularly inspected and tested to ensure it remains safe.

CBC has reported extensively on concerns raised by a former TransCanada employee. Most of these concerns focused on how we hired and oversaw independent quality-control inspectors on new pipeline projects. The National Energy Board has confirmed that these issues do not pose a risk to public safety. This former employee raised his concerns to me and those were handled according to our internal “whistle-blower” process that requires all of our 4,500 employees, as well as contractors, to voice concerns they might have about safety or ethical issues in the workplace. An internal investigation was immediately conducted and TransCanada also retained external experts to assess certain technical aspects of the allegations. Our investigation found that most of the items he raised had been identified and resolved at the time of construction through routine quality control processes. This review also confirmed that the issues never compromised the safety or integrity of our pipelines. The results of our review were shared with the NEB. I want to make it clear that this employee was not terminated for speaking out and raising his concerns. A great deal of time was spent working with him to ensure his concerns were heard and addressed, but we will not disclose the details surrounding his departure out of respect for his privacy.

For many years, TransCanada followed industry practice of allowing our prime contractors to hire independent non-destructive examination services to conduct inspections on our pipelines during fabrication and construction. These inspections were completed by qualified inspectors that were pre-approved by TransCanada and their results were audited by TransCanada employees to ensure quality and objectivity. In 2002, we were informed by the NEB that this practice did not meet its requirements for independent, third-party inspection during construction so we changed our practice to hire these inspectors directly. Last year we extended this practice to inspections during fabrication as well. In the end, all of our welding and workmanship continues to be analyzed by independent safety inspectors whose work is audited by our own people.

Last year, TransCanada spent more than $800 million on long-term maintenance and improvements to our pipelines and energy assets. We are committed to building and operating the safest pipelines in the world, using the latest technology and highest-quality materials.

The CBC reports have implied that we have cut corners on safety and nothing could be further from the truth. We have always used independent third parties to inspect our welds and we have always directly audited the work of these independent  inspectors. The consequences of any incident can be huge and incurring costs to ensure we go above and beyond is a sound investment.

We employ more than 500 professional engineers who take their professional obligations very seriously. We make it clear to all of our employees and contractors that we will not tolerate anything that undermines the safety and reliability of our facilities.

Russ Girling