Re: "Need to be more precise, letters to the editor, Times, Jan. 17.
In his letter, G.E. Mac-Donell comments on Paul Henderson's article about Kinder Morgan's expansion plans and the oil spill of one year ago at the Abbotsford tank farm. MacDonell stresses the importance of neutral wording in articles. It is important to be factual. Residents were concerned about Kinder Morgan's repeated assertions that the spill had been "quickly contained." This was clearly proven false by the National Energy Board investigation. Hours went by before the spill was responded to by the company.
As MacDonell notes, the spill was the result of human error-to be precise, a string of human errors.
He states: "There were a number of minor and more serious operational errors made that Kinder Morgan subsequently attended to . . . ." Here MacDonell falls into the same difficulty with neutral wording. It would be more factual to say: ". . . operational errors that Kinder Morgan says it has attended to." Pipeline companies often are at pains to say that they have "fixed the problem" or "increased security measures" or "intend to build a new and safer pipeline." Sometimes such statements are not borne out by subsequent events. For example, in 2010, Trans Canada Pipelines said that the Keystone Pipeline was built to "meet or exceed all safety standards." However, the line had twelve spills in its first year of operation.
MacDonell implies that a spill of 110,000 litres of crude oil is trivial (an amount that "would fill an average backyard swimming pool"). I think he is missing the point. This particular spill apparently did not get into the water supply, though, for reasons given above, I am hesitant to rely on the company's word on this. Even a much smaller amount, were it to get into the drinking water supply of a Fraser Valley community or into a salmon bearing river or stream, would be toxic and, potentially, fatal to humans or wildlife.
Similarly, the product spilled (BC Light, a volatile sour crude), caused more than just a "'nuisance' odor." Newspaper reports after the spill indicated that children complained of headaches and nausea. The school's air handling system was shut down. While the level of exposure was less than the 2010 tar sands spill in Marshall, Mich., the effects were similar. In the Michigan spill, children and seniors experienced headaches, nausea and vomiting and over 200 people were hospitalized. The odor was hydrogen sulphide, a gas that is lethal in high doses.
In the last part of his letter, MacDonnel falls into the logical fallacy of ad hominem-he attacks Sheila Muxlow personally, calling into question her qualifications. Surely one doesn't need an engineering degree to comment on the threat of tar sands pipelines. Members of the public, MacDonnel, Muxlow and myself included, have every right to comment on the actions and proposals of these companies. I should add that the PIPE UP Network tries hard to get the facts and to educate ourselves and our communities about the realities of pipelines. We commend Paul Henderson for contributing to this education.
Michael Hale, member of the PIPE UP network Yarrow