HOUSTON — Canada’s pipeline regulators need to do more to keep up with the pipeline approval process and the day-to-day of managing existing lines, according to a government audit submitted to the nation’s parliament Tuesday.
The report, conducted by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, outlined problems at pipeline regulator the National Energy Board such as outdated technology and inconsistent steps to verify compliance by companies. The National Energy Board referees Canada’s pipeline approval process and oversees operating infrastructure.
The Board has come under fire recently as it grapples with about $18 billion in new proposed, controversial pipelines carrying oil sands crude. Several of the largest proposed pipelines have ties to Houston, such as Kinder Morgan’s expansion to the Alberta-to-British Columbia Trans Mountain pipeline.
“Our audit concluded that the NEB did not adequately track company implementation of pipeline approval conditions, and that it was not consistently following up on company deficiencies,” said Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in a video statement released with the audit. “We found that the board’s tracking systems were outdated and inefficient.”
The conclusion comes after a flood of criticism from local activists and provincial government about the National Energy Board’s pipeline approval process. Opponents of the pipelines have argued that regulators have ignored their concerns or aren’t capable of ensuring the lines are built responsibly. Much of the conflict has centered around Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and TransCanada’s Alberta-to-Quebec Energy East pipeline, both of which are still being reviewed by the Board.
Justin Trudeau, Canada’s recently elected prime minister, has said the National Energy Board’s approval process is due for an overhaul. But with few details currently available on what that may entail, pipeline companies working their way through the current process have been left on shaky ground. Under the current schedule, the National Energy Board is due to make a final recommendation on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion by May 20.
Tuesday’s audit concluded that the National Energy Board wasn’t tracking whether companies had satisfied conditions set for approval of their pipelines. Auditors examined a sample of 49 cases and found inaccurate tracking, key files missing or incomplete analysis in 25 cases.
Auditors also called the Board’s information management tools outdated and inefficient. In one example, auditors said the list of pipeline approvals provided by the Board was missing recently approved lines. Information problems also included incomplete public access to companies’ compliance records and an emergency management plan that needs consolidation.
Finally, the audit noted that the Board was having a hard time recruiting and retaining skilled staff. Attrition rates have risen as high as 29 percent in between 2007 and 2008, the report noted.