Northern Gateway risk assessment judged error-riddled

  • May. 22, 2013 6:00 p.m.

Two experts in the field of marine risk assessment say a recent assessment pointing out the risks of an oil spill associated with Enbridge made serious errors in its assumptions and significantly inflate the risk of a spill. The study in question was made public a couple of weeks ago by Dr. Thomas Gunton of Simon Fraser University. In it, Dr. Gunton said that the “risk of a tanker spill more than 1,000 barrels over the operating life (of the project) is greater than 95 percent.” But another engineer with 36 years experience in marine risk says Dr. Gunton’s study is flawed. Keith Michel, Chair of Herbert Engineering Corporation, says the study fails to take into consideration great strides in marine safety that have taken place over the last 20 years. And he said it is out of touch with the real world. “Based on the report’s estimates, we would expect 21 to 77 large tanker spills every year. Instead there are now on average fewer than two large spills per year worldwide. In 2012, there were none,” Mr. Michel and his co-author Audun Brandsaeter say. The two say the downward trend in marine spills is due to several developments, including the adoption of double-hulled tankers as the industry standard since the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, as well as new marine transportation regulations, and a wholesale shift in the safety culture of the industry. The two also say Enbridge used a reasonable risk-assessment model, one that accounts for regional factors. The Gunton study criticised Enbridge for not using a US analysis model. “At the end of the day, readers should know our own peer-reviewed analysis finds no reason to think the probability of marine spills here is any greater than the probability anywhere else in the world, where improvements continue and spill incidents are in a steady decline even as tanker traffic increases worldwide,” Mr. Michel and his co-author said.