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By Mike De Souza
OTTAWA, March 18 Canada's energy regulator is
investigating up to a dozen new allegations of natural gas
pipeline safety-code violations at TransCanada Corp,
according to documents reviewed by Reuters.
The regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB), and the
company confirmed an investigation is under way but offered few
details of the allegations.
It marks the second time in recent years the regulator has
probed safety practices at Canada's second-largest pipeline
company following complaints by a whistleblower.
Documents reviewed by Reuters showed the allegations include
faulty or delayed repairs, sloppy welding work and a failure to
report key issues to the regulator.
TransCanada declined to provide details about the
allegations, but noted someone previously raised them within the
company, prompting an internal investigation that is continuing.
Spokesman Davis Sheremata said that TransCanada was working
diligently to gather relevant information to share with the
regulator, but that it did not see any of the allegations
representing either an immediate or long term threat to the
public or its assets.
"We make it clear to all of our staff and contractors that
we will not tolerate anything that undermines the safety and
reliability of our facilities," he said.
The company's safety practices previously came under
scrutiny over allegations raised publicly in 2012 by a former
employee, Evan Vokes, who worked as an engineer for the company
for five years. He left TransCanada in 2012 after he approached
the regulator with his complaints.
Those allegations prompted a major NEB audit released in
February 2014 that confirmed some of the former employee's
complaints and called on the company to address its oversight
weaknesses in areas such as risk assessment, inspections and
Rival company, Enbridge has also been criticized by
regulators over safety and management practices following a 2010
incident that spilled more than 20,000 barrels of heavy crude
into Michigan's Kalamazoo River. In a separate incident, the
regulator recently fined Enbridge C$200,000 ($157,617) for
causing environmental and property damage and breaking
conditions of a permit for construction work in 2014 in
Safety lapses, if confirmed, could put natural gas pipelines
at increased risk of ruptures or explosions, said Najmedin
Meshkati, a University of Southern California engineering
professor who specializes in oil and gas industry safety issues.
In a Feb. 25, 2015 letter sent by the regulator to the
whistleblower, the regulator said that it learned of the
allegations in March 2014 and was taking them "very seriously,"
but that it had not flagged any immediate safety concerns.
The whistleblower, a former TransCanada employee, allowed
Reuters to view the letter, but asked not to be identified.
According to a summary document prepared by a senior NEB
official, the investigation was reviewing an allegation that
TransCanada took several months to repair pipeline damage caused
by a construction crew in May 2013 about 150 km (93 miles) north
of Calgary, and also failed to report it to the regulator.
Another allegation describes sloppy repairs to a major line,
the North Central Corridor, which serves companies in the oil
sands. This natural gas pipeline had been damaged following an
October 2013 explosion near Wabasca, Alberta.
TransCanada's network of more than 68,000 km of natural gas
pipelines tap into virtually all major gas supply basins in
North America. It has had some significant ruptures on these
lines in recent years, including the 2013 explosion and another
in 2014, still under investigation. One of the company's brand
new lines in Wyoming also ruptured in 2011.
The new allegations come at a time when the Canadian
pipeline operator awaits the final U.S. administration verdict
on its long-debated Keystone XL oil pipeline.
TransCanada has been pushing to expand its operations in
recent years, proposing two major pipelines for oil and gas
distribution to eastern Canada.
It has also been tapped to build two new multibillion-dollar
pipelines to carry natural gas from northeastern British
Columbia to proposed liquefied natural gas export terminals on
the Pacific coast.
($1 = 1.2689 Canadian dollars)
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Tomasz Janowski)