We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
Posted on April 14, 2022
Real-time research for Line 3 decommissioning a critical step going forward
By Annette Schinborn
There are many unknowns surrounding pipeline abandonment.
Depending on who you listen to, there are projections and assumptions as to when an abandoned pipe might corrode through and cause a collapse, the erosion of topsoil into the pipe or turn the pipe into a water conduit, to name a few.
Landowners have been told it could be as soon as 50 to 100 years or as long as 1,500 years before a pipe will corrode through. Nobody really knows, because “real time” research has never been done.
Instead of finding out for sure, the modus operandi of both the national regulator and the pipeline industry has always been to kick the can down the road—why worry about and spend money on something that might not be a problem for a millennium?
CAEPLA landowners are concerned about abandonment and what it might mean to their property. They don’t want to leave their children or grandchildren—or their grandchildren’s children or grandchildren—what amounts to an abandoned gas station.
“The modus operandi of the national regulator and the pipeline industry has always been to kick the can down the road.”
The landowner’s name is on title, so their main concern is being left with an abandoned pipe and all its liabilities after the old National Energy Board (NEB) declared one “abandoned in place.”
CAEPLA and its landowner associations pressured the NEB to prioritize abandonment, and in 2008 they finally did.
The board set up two “streams of discussion” dealing with abandonment: “Pipeline Abandonment–Financial Issues” and “Pipeline Abandonment–Physical Issues.”
Pipeline Safety Act gives NEB jurisdiction
As one might expect from bureaucrats, they put the cart before the horse and decided to figure out how much money to set aside to address abandonment before exploring what the issues and true costs are of such a move.
At great expense, CAEPLA and its member associations participated in the Abandonment Costs Estimates Hearings. Unlike the pipeline companies or its industry association—the defunct Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA)—CAEPLA hired experts and provided evidence at the hearing. The companies presented a compilation of studies (a literature review) with a disclaimer that CEPA could not guarantee its accuracy. No one from the industry provided any experts who could be cross-examined in the quasi-judicial process of the NEB.
Fortunately for landowners, the Harper government in 2015 passed Bill C-46 The Pipeline Safety Act. Enacted in June 2016, it provided the NEB jurisdiction over abandoned pipes and relieved landowners of the liability that should never have been theirs.
Which doesn’t mean landowners should count on government to protect them for all eternity—what government or its regulators give one day can be taken away the next. Which is why CAEPLA always preaches vigilance.
How fast does corrosion happen?
Recognizing regulators could not be relied on, CAEPLA chose to engage with Enbridge directly on the decommissioning of its legacy Line 3 as part of that pipe’s replacement project.
“Landowners can be confident in the real-time research on the decommissioned Line 3.”
The result was an agreement to have the engineering department at the University of Calgary, in cooperation with CAEPLA, conduct research exploring all aspects of decommissioning pipelines.
CAEPLA hired engineering experts to review the research and to determine next steps. As one engineer quipped, “We don’t know what we don’t know,” adding nobody has ever done “real-time” research on the ground.
While there have been many hypotheses and computer-generated models, nobody has ever actually come up with a plan to dig abandoned pipe out of the ground in various locations and examine it to figure out how fast corrosion happens in different soil types and conditions.
CAEPLA contracted an independent engineering firm to review all the research we’ve done to date and provide input on Enbridge’s decommissioning monitoring plan. This will ensure landowners can be confident in the ongoing real-time research on the decommissioned Line 3.
This third-party review will be filed with Enbridge’s decommissioning plan to the Canadian Energy Regulator and will include the historical account of the research and work done by CAEPLA and the landowner movement over the years.
Meanwhile, the research will continue for decades to come.
The agreement will be a living document for future generations of CAEPLA landowners and staff to rely on as they work with the company to create a permanent win-win solution for the challenges surrounding decommissioned and abandoned pipe.
For such a lengthy endeavour, vigilance, as always, will be key to success.
Touring a Worksite
This past summer, Enbridge began work on cleaning and decommissioning the segment of Line 3 pipe between Cromer and Gretna, Man.
Dave Core and I visited the site and were given a short tour up to the area beyond where personal protective equipment (PPE) was required. Landowners, Keith and Teresa Lobel, on whose land the work was being conducted, joined us for the tour and explanation of the work being done.
A roadway of mats was placed on the soil to protect it from compaction, as heavy trucks bringing in nitrogen and cleaning solutions, as well as heavy equipment travelled from the road to the cutting and cleaning site. Large water tanks were erected along with mobile office trailers for the engineers and shower stations as a safeguard against any adverse event and for biosecurity measures.
A huge emphasis was put on safety and security of the workers, the landowners and the property. Prior to entering the land, each vehicle was required to be cleaned and disinfected as a biosecurity protocol.
After our tour, Dave and I met with Keith and Teresa in their backyard, along with Dwaine Boon, a landowner on the CAEPLA/MPLA/SAPL Decommissioning Committee. Landon Lonsberry, an engineer on the project, also joined us and took the time to explain the process of the work being done on the Lobels’ property.
Having experienced some negative effects to their property in the past, the Lobels were happy to see it being treated with newfound respect.
When property rights are respected and landowners are treated as partners when they host energy infrastructure, pipeline projects can be effectively constructed and a good relationship maintained into the future. It is truly a win-win.
Annette Schinborn is chief executive officer at CAEPLA, having served previously as COO and director of landowner relations. Before joining the team at CAEPLA, Annette worked with grassroots non-profits including the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Prairie Centre and the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. She has worked closely with farmers, ranchers and other landowners on issues such as tax and agricultural policy, energy transport and property rights.
Published in PIPELINE OBSERVER Winter 2022