Spill study inflates risk, misrepresents Gateway

Author: Northern Gateway
Dated: 26 April 2013

A study released today by Tom Gunton, of Simon Fraser University, comes to a flawed set of conclusions about the likelihood of an incident related to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline. 

Here is our position on the issue of safety: Northern Gateway has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to marine and pipeline safety. Our efforts are focused on ensuring safe operations coupled with rigorous emergency response capability in the unlikely event of an incident. While we have spent enormous effort and resources modeling the possibility of an incident, our number one priority is on safety and preventing an incident from occurring in the first place.

We are very concerned about the misleading report released by Mr. Gunton, who was a witness for the Coastal First Nations organization during the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel process.

Mr. Gunton should have made his study available to the JRP process, the most thorough review of a pipeline that’s ever taken place in Canada. All of Northern Gateway’s conclusions have been subject to peer review, information requests and questioning by intervenors and the Joint Review Panel.

However the author chose not to participate in the JRP process with this study. Instead, he chose to release this study after the process ended.  Given the timing, we can only conclude this study was purposely kept off the evidence record to avoid being tested in the hearing process.

Our experts have identified a number of omissions, flawed assumptions and modeling errors in the study and have serious concerns with its conclusions:

  • The spill probability numbers are inflated: The author uses oil throughput volumes that are nearly 40 per cent higher than those applied for in this project which also inflates the number of tanker transits using these inflated volumes
  • The pipeline failure frequency methodology adopted by Mr. Gunton is flawed, and does not approximate what would be deemed a best practices approach to the scientific risk analysis of a modern pipeline system
  • Mr. Gunton based his failure frequency analysis on a small subset of historical failure incident data. Why would he limit the source of his data to two pipelines with incidents not reflective of the industry experience and not reflective of the new technology proposed for Northern Gateway?
  • The study results are not borne out by real world tanker spill statistics. Based on Mr. Gunton’s estimates we should expect 21 to 77 large tanker spills every year worldwide while in reality after 2000 it has been below 3 per year and in 2012 there were zero.

We question why Mr. Gunton chose to exclude this report from the JRP process when he has had ample opportunity to submit evidence through his longstanding relationship with registered intervenors Coastal First Nations. He could have also tested our risk assessment evidence through this lengthy, rigorous and transparent process, however, both he and Coastal First Nations chose not to.  

Furthermore, this flawed study appears to be a follow up to a March 2012 report Mr. Gunton wrote for the Coastal First Nations which was widely used in their public relations efforts but not submitted as evidence in the Joint Review Panel process—which leads us to question Mr. Gunton’s suggestion today’s report wasn’t filed as evidence because of its date of publication.

We’d like the public to know that our Quantitative Risk Analysis work provided ample opportunity for project opponents like Mr. Gunton and the Coastal First Nations to influence design methodology as well as help select the experts contracted to conduct the work.

It’s unfortunate that studies like the one by Mr. Gunton do more to mislead than inform.


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  • Eric Nielsen, May 04th, 2013 (2 years ago)

    Thank you for the rebuttal to a typically inflated "scientific" report. The real basis of reports like that is the desire of many people NOT to have economic progress. These are the same people who say it is OK for Victoria to pump untreated sewage int to Straits of Juan de Fuca.

  • Glenn Markham, May 03rd, 2013 (2 years ago)

    This seems typical of the exaggerated put forth by the left when their programs start to start to loose footing. Great rebuttal. Thank you

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