Aprotocol for crossi ng pipelines has been established, but the contentious issue of pipel ine abandonment is still undecided, members of the Manitoba Pipeline Landowners Association (MPLA) heard at a meeting last week.
Dan Hacault, an MPLA director, said that the new regulations that were hammered out by the National Energy Board late last year have placed the onus on landowners to “get leave” from the company before crossing pipeline rights-of-way with heavy equipment.
“You really have to read the regs, but what it says is that we have to ask permission and we are responsible for the safety of the pipe,” said Hacault.
Prior to the changes, landowners were free to cross at will. But now, a “wheel of fortune” rotary index-based screening tool has been distributed to farmers that uses equipment weights, tire size and pressure to determine the relative risk of damaging the buried pipe.
“Then you can phone the pipeline company up and they will write you a letter saying if you can cross with that piece of equipment,” he said.
DEPTH OF COVER
The main issue with crossing the pipe, Hacault added, is depth of cover, or the amount of soil over top of the pipeline, which could vary from field to field, depending on whether the pipe was installed recently or as long ago as the 1950s.
Many landowners in the association have asked pipeline owner Enbridge to provide up-to-date information on depth of cover, because in some cases, natural events such as erosion may have brought the pipe closer to the surface than the minimum two-foot depth.
Seven crude oil pipelines originating in Alberta run side by side across the south of the province, from Cromer to Gretna, then down to refineries in the United States.
Hacault said that Enbridge officials are coy about what would happen if a farmer did damage some portion of the multibillion-dollar pipeline, and will only say that “nobody has been held responsible up until now.”
As for the issue of abandonment, or future liability for the pipelines once they reach the end of their useful life, Hacault said that the original easement agreements stated that the pipes “would be removed.”
The new proposed regulations have backed away from this pledge, and now it is likely that most of the pipelines will be decommissioned, cleaned, and abandoned in place.
Pipeline landowner groups have been fighting for an abandonment fund to cover future costs, but the NEB has yet to make a final decision. Negotiations on how much cash will need to be set aside are still underway.
“Basically, what has happened, is that the pipe will remain in the ground,” said Hacault, who added that pipeline companies have offered to remove some 10 to 20 per cent of the pipes, but only on property that they own.
“The rest remains in the ground. They’ll clean it out to the best of their ability, then they’ll walk away,” he said.
Landowners won’t be able to remove it themselves for salvage, he added, because that would require a permit and environmental licence. At any rate, the pipes have a “negative salvage value.”
Abandonment-in-place leaves landowners with an enormous liability, because the rusting pipe – which in some cases is one metre in diameter, may someday collapse and damage their farm equipment. Also, future environmental regulations may leave their children and grandchildren with huge cleanup costs, he added.
DECK IS STACKED
Dave Core, a former Ontario farmer who is now chairman of the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations (CAEPLA), a nationwide umbrella group for provincial associations, said that he was forced to pull the organization out of the latest round of regulatory negotiations at the NEB because “the deck is stacked against the landowner.”
With billions of dollars at their disposal, energy companies are able to muster legal and engineering teams that they can use to influence NEB outcomes, he said, which leaves landowners at a disadvantage.
Citing new expropriation laws passed by Alberta and Ontario, Core said that landowners’ rights are being trampled by provincial governments of all political stripes. That is happening, he added, because the politicians don’t understand the implications of the legislation put in front of them by bureaucrats, some of whom may be unduly influenced via “regulatory capture,” he added.
“The only way to get change is to change the way your neighbour thinks, to change the way Canadians think, so that they understand that they’ve got to do something to protect their freedom,” said Core.
“We all think the government is going to look after us, but the government and bureaucrats are going to continue to take property rights away because by reducing property rights, their lives are made easier.” daniel. [email protected]
“Weallthinkthegovernmentisgoingto lookafterus,butthegovernmentand bureaucratsaregoingtocontinuetotake propertyrightsawaybecausebyreducing propertyrights,theirlivesaremadeeasier.”
– Dave Core