Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Life and Hopeful Death of a Pipeline Promoter Talking Point - Guest Post

Note: Today, Northern Insight features a contribution from freelance writer and journalist Brett Mineer, winner of the 2011 Jack Webster Foundation award for Best News Reporting of the Year - Radio. His accounts of the 'Whistler Sled Dog Killings' were heard around the world.

This item follows a couple of pieces I did that involved Tom Fletcher: Agenda journalism and Hey Tom Fletcher, whose energy policy is nonsense?
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A Kinder Morgan talking point promoted by the President of the BC Legislature Press Gallery sounds great – until you give it a moment of thought (and a fact check).

Brett Mineer, March 12, 2015


It was the kind of thing Twitter is known for – ad hominem and baseless assertion. As I'm periodically guilty of the same heat of the moment Twitter foolishness, I would have been plenty happy to leave well-enough alone were it not for the fact that one such assertion had appeared in print before.

In early December, protests were well underway on Burnaby Mountain over test holes Kinder Morgan contractors were drilling in an effort to gather data for their proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. There had been over 100 arrests by this time and the rhetoric was heated, including from the President of the Legislature Press Gallery, the Black Press man in Victoria, Tom Fletcher. Once upon a time his dual role of columnist and reporter might have been thought to have been incompatible – but not these days.

On this night someone raised the concern many of the protesters had that the Kinder Morgan proposal wasn't just for a near tripling of oil volume, but a change in the product being shipped. Under the proposal before the NEB, Trans Mountain would transport a majority of its overall volume in the form of dilbit instead of light crude.

Because the bitumen coming out of Alberta is too thick to flow through pipes on its own, it needs to be diluted using a cocktail of solvents and derivatives of natural gas in order to go from point AB to BC. The industry widely acknowledges dilbit poses a greater risk of corrosion and other technical challenges, therefor requiring a greater level of maintenance and monitoring to ensure their safety. This was a concern oft brought up by protesters and opponents of the Trans Mountain proposal but it was a concern easily brushed aside by Fletcher and the communications staff running the Trans Mountain twitter account:


You'll notice I don't have the original tweet from @TransMtn that Fletcher retweeted. They deleted it after I began email correspondence with them days later (more on that shortly).

As you can see, I responded by repeating something I'd asked @TransMtn before to no response.

My thinking was thus:
We've always known this pipeline shipped crude. True they may have sent a few test runs of bitumen through to test the feasibility of one day getting Alberta's land-locked bitumen to foreign markets – but this is, and always has been, a very traditional oil pipeline. So how much bitumen have they shipped?
Fletcher's response surprised me.


I don't have my response – but I remember it tersely read "Frankly Tom, I'm shocked you consider yourself one."


For a reason I can't quite put my finger on, I now really wanted to know those annual bitumen volumes for the existing pipeline. I reached out to Trans Mountain this time through a direct message on Twitter.

Four days later they Tweeted this back:


Looking at their own numbers, it clearly appears the Trans Mountain has remained primarily a crude oil pipeline. The largest amount of dilbit ever carried as a percentage of total annual volume was 18.6% in 2010.

Admittedly, they never explicitly claimed to primarily carry dilbit however their claim "Transporting bitumen began in 1986, almost 30 years, half of Trans Mountain's history" seemed designed to imply it, or at least deflect questions about the proposed shift to majority dilbit.

Because their claim (and by proxy Fletcher's) is that dilbit shipments have been occurring since 1986, it seemed to me a chart that only went back to 2006 left a pretty big data hole.

I followed up by email:
-----Original Message-----
From: Brett Mineer [mailto:xxx@xxx.ca]
Sent: Monday, December 08, 2014 12:03 PM
To: Info Transmountain

Subject: Dilbit percentages prior to 2006

I'd first like to thank you for your efforts in responding to my requests on Twitter for Dilbit volumes as a percentage of annual totals. The information you provided for 2006-2013 is exactly what I was looking to see.

As a follow up I'm just seeking some clarification on pre-2006 numbers. In your tweet you mentioned the practice of shipping Dilbit via the Trans Mountain Pipeline began in the 1980's. I am wondering if numbers from the 80's to 2006 were not included because the amounts were negligible, unavailable or a bit of both? If you have any additional numbers or could point me in the right direction of pre-2006 data it'd be much appreciated.

Sincerely,
Brett Mineer
I received a response a few minutes later:
From: Info Transmountain
Sent: Monday, December 08, 2014 12:11 PM
To: 'Brett Mineer'
Cc: External Relations

Subject: RE: Dilbit percentages prior to 2006

Hi Brett,

Thank you for your follow-up email. I have forwarded your question to my co-workers in External Relations for Kinder Morgan Canada, as they will be better able to speak to questions regarding existing/historical information.

Kind Regards,

Angela
Trans Mountain Expansion Project Info
Kinder Morgan Canada Inc.
With that, my questions were kicked over to Calgary. The next day I received one of those LinkedIn notifications that someone was viewing my profile. I guess they were curious why someone was asking reporter-type questions who hadn't identified himself as a reporter. I'd be curious too.

Anticipating I may want to write something somewhere about this, I tried looking for the original tweet from Kinder Morgan that got this all started. It had mysteriously disappeared from their feed but as luck would have it, I found it alive and well as a Tom Fletcher retweet (as shown earlier).

On day two, I half expected a response from Andrew, the guy who'd been looking over my LinkedIn. Instead I heard from Natalie. On Dec 10, 2014, at 11:13 AM, External Relations <externalrelations@kindermorgan.com> wrote:
Hello Brett,

In response to your follow up question, the detailed information you have asked about is not readily available.

When the pipeline first started operating in the 1950s it transported conventional light crude, refined products were introduced in the mid-1980s and in the late 1980's Trans Mountain began the transportation of heavy oil. The heavy oil volumes were initially low and as both supply and demand for heavy oil increased over time so too did the volume transported by Trans Mountain up to the percentages that were previously provided to you. 
Sincerely,
Natalie Loban
Communications Advisor
External Relations, Kinder Morgan Canada
In other words, volumes pre 2006 were negligible to non-existent. Shipments of bitumen that "began in 1986" appear to have been nothing more than periodic and barely notable – perhaps feasibility studies.

Kinder Morgan and Trans Mountain may never use that talking point again – but don't count on anything different from Tom Fletcher.


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13 comments:

  1. Great post.

    Fletcher wrote that Burnaby Councillor Nick Volkow repeated the "myth that a new pipeline would introduce diluted bitumen to the coast." Volkow was more accurate than Fletcher, as the proposed pipeline change would allow a 1000% increase in the quantity of diluted bitumen transported in recent years.

    I wonder if the general public and First Nations had been given notice when the shipment of dilbit began in Burrard Inlet. We know that a bitumen spill would be far more destructive to the ocean than a spill of conventional crude or refined products. Less known is the risk of fire and explosion when dilbit is transported.

    This is from the website Railway Age:

    "The railroad reported that its train was not carrying the extra-light Bakken crude that, in a series of high-energy derailments since 2013, has proved to be explosive. To the contrary, the CN train was laden with bitumen, the extra-heavy tarry substance extracted from Alberta’s oil sands.Undiluted bitumen alone, with a flash point of +151ºC, is considered essentially non-flammable in a derailment event and is rarely considered in safety evaluations of crude by rail.

    "So why did the bitumen ignite and explode in Ontario’s -40ºC (-40ºF) weather? The reason, based on research consulted by Railway Age, is that the diluent added to make bitumen flow into and out of tank cars makes the blended lading quite volatile.

    "This blend of bitumen and petroleum-based diluents, known as “dilbit,” has a low flash point. Thus, the widespread belief that bitumen from Alberta’s northern oil sands is far safer to transport by rail than Bakken crude is, for all intents and purposes, dead wrong. This may be disruptive news for bitumen shippers, carriers, and regulators."

    http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/safety/why-bitumen-isnt-necessarily-safer-than-bakken.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. The smoke and mirror game continues. I wonder if the so called "regulatory authorities" knew of this, for the past 30 years. Seems like
    the use of this chemical cocktail in heavy crude transport, has been ongoing without oversight, for quite some time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have wondered for some time if anyone still reads Fletcher's tripe. He seemed to have disappeared up his own orifice.I happened to stop in to Merritt on a trip from the interior, and glanced at the local Merritt rag. Lo and behold there were five, count 'em, five articles by sad old Tom. I guess when you only have one reporter on your staff you tend to print any old rubbish that is sent to you by the owner.

    ReplyDelete
  4. “I think you’ve demonstrated why you’re not a reporter on this story,” says Mr. Fletcher.

    I believe Mr. Fletcher actually wrote a true fact there, even if it was unwittingly. Journalists digging for the facts in matters like this usually get reassigned or worse these days. Lickspittles get to stay on.

    ReplyDelete
  5. So. Based on one of his Tweets shown above, Mr. Fletcher claims he has the facts from the company. Perhaps now he could show them to us.

    .

    ReplyDelete
  6. Kinder Morgan's response source to Brett Mineer: Starting at a) is on page 91 of 130; b) is on page 102; c) is on page 104 which is which is where Table 1.10B-2 resides. End of the alphabet is at r) on page 106

    Page 107 is Seismic Specifications and on page 108 is:

    At present, there are no guidelines in force in Canada that prescribe a performance standard for seismic design with respect to pipelines.
    Trans Mountain is responsible for establishing performance standards that consider both overall risk management and regulations that might apply to the design of individual components.

    Backtracking: Page 91:

    While no spills are acceptable, when one does happen, it is cleaned up with the regulatory oversight of the National Energy Board. In addition, the majority of spills happen within KMC’s terminal facilities where containment is complete and clean-up can be done quickly with very little or no environmental impact and cost.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The guy is a hack, and a bad one at that. His constant innuendo re anything NDP is laughable. Check out the letter to the editor in this weeks Barriere Star Journal to see someone ask the obvious question of his heroine Christy.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Seems that letter is behind the Black Press barricade.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Remember! When you read "Kinder Morgan" think "Enron".

    ReplyDelete
  10. Our Post on 'Vacationing' Vaughn Palmer - 2012

    Langara College, Media Hype - 2007 Page 21 of 40, "Political Shark: Vaughn Palmer has been ripping apart B.C. Politicians for Two Decades"

    Vaughn Palmer may have been doing it for two decades, what's he been doing for the last decade: a Political Minnow with more minnows in a supporting role?

    Keith Baldrey's take on VP:

    On the Opposition Leader Gordon Campbell: '....At the press conference afterwards, Palmer took the first bite. “Is that the best you can do?” he asked, tearing a chunk of flesh out of the premier-to-be’s hide. “It was one of those zingers that Vaughn throws at a politician,” says Keith Baldrey, Global BC’s legislative reporter, who worked with Palmer at the Sun. “And the politician just sits there and melts.”

    When the shock wore off, the feeding frenzy was on. ...."


    Page 38 of 40:

    "....Since 2001, Palmer’s main target has been Gordon Campbell and the Liberals. When Campbell held his first
    news conference after his drunk driving arrest, his wife was standing with him. Once again, Palmer took the first
    shot.

    “He was asking why Mrs. Campbell was beside the premier,” recalls Gary Mason, a colleague of Palmer’s in the
    ‘80s. “And the suggestion was, was she there to kind of mute the criticism. It was a tough question.” The kind that has become Palmer’s specialty. “He can be really ruthless,” says Mason, now a Globe and Mail columnist. ...."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The article is good comedy when read in the light of Mr. Palmer’s current efforts. Even at the time it represented gratuitous tire pumping at it’s best.

      It should be presented to current journalism students with a challenge. Find and discuss an instance where Vaughn Palmer has torn a hunk of flesh out of a premier-to-be’s hide (according to Baldrey), like a great white shark has ripped all the flesh off the bones (according to Mike Smyth), or has been really ruthless (per Gary Mason) in the last five years. Also, provide and discuss evidence that during his nine years in office Gordon Campbell never forgot the lesson Vaughn taught him about passing “the Vaughn sniff test” (Baldrey again). They’d find it a tough assignment.

      Delete

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