The safety of Canadian long-distance pipelines has improved but the National Energy Board (NEB) needs better information management systems to ensure good performance, a federal record-keeping agency said Tuesday.
The annual report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, a branch of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, said the NEB has let a gap open up in its tracking of pipelines’ compliance with their construction approval conditions.
The gap showed up when the commissioner’s inspectors reviewed a sample of 49 permit conditions, out of more than 1,000 imposed on projects since 2000. In 24 cases, the records of NEB follow-up compliance assurance activities were flawed because they were incomplete or too difficult to locate.
“We concluded that the board did not adequately track company implementation of pipeline approval conditions, or consistently follow up on deficiencies in company compliance with regulatory requirements,” said the commissioner’s report.
NEB project approval conditions range from engineering and safety standards to aboriginal employment and environmental monitoring requirements.
The commissioner wrote, “Although the board could demonstrate through a manual search of its records that companies had taken most of the required corrective actions, the information management systems used for this purpose were not integrated with each other, and were outdated and inefficient.”
Improved record keeping matters to the industry as well as the Canadian public – and will become more important as the pipeline network expands amid increasing sensitivity and opposition to risks of oil and natural gas transportation, the commissioner wrote.
“During the course of the audit, companies told us that they were often unsure as to whether the Board was fully satisfied with the corrective actions they had taken, because the Board did not always notify the company with a final conclusion,” says the audit report.
“In one case, for example, a Board inspection had detected numerous liquid sulphur leaks. While the Board had obtained a corrective action plan from the company, it did not conclude whether the corrective action had actually been implemented. In another instance, we found that a company had completed corrective actions and provided required submissions in 2013, but that the Board had not updated its tracking system to reflect this.”
In responses to the commissioner’s findings, the NEB pledged to whip its information technology and procedures into better and user-friendly shape as staff and technology become available.
As a practical matter of ensuring that Canada’s 73,000 kilometers (45,625 miles) of federally regulated pipelines owned by about 100 companies operate properly, the commissioner noted that the NEB is becoming increasingly active.
In the last fully reported federal government fiscal year the number of board safety inspections grew to 150 from 100 and audits of corporate record-keeping systems for the largest pipeline networks increased to six from three. Since 2012, the annual number of incidents of all types ranging from small nuisance leaks to hazardous ruptures has fallen to less than 80 from nearly 160, shows NEB data cited by the environment commissioner.