Canadian pipeline regulator responds to oil group’s call for better engineers

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The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association told Canada’s parliament in May that pipeline regulator, the National Energy Board, does not have the funding to hire and maintain the quality off engineering staff needed to perform its functions.

In response, NEB Chair Peter Watson told lawmakers that salaries offered by the board cannot compete with the private sector at a senate committee hearing on the pending Pipeline Safety Act. Plus, entry level engineers hired by NEB jump ship when they have more experience, he said.

CEPA’s statements come at time of mounting pressure against the regulator on several fronts–an investigation of its engineering personnel by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta, national pipeline accidents increasing in both scale and frequency and billions of dollars in energy transport and refining projects waiting review from an impatient petrol industry.

In a June 15 telephone interview, NEB spokesman Darin Barter said he did not know what prompted the petrol lobbyist’s comments. “We feel very confident in our engineering personnel,” he said.

Two of NEB’s senior engineers, Ian Calhoun and Jim Paviglianiti are under investigation by APEGA for the handling of a 2014 safety probe of pipeline operator TransCanada. Evan Vokes, one of two TransCanada whistle-blowers who brought the complaint against NEB to APEGA, said it addressed “unskilled practice.”

The complaint was brought by a“non-engineer,” which undermined its credibility Barter said, adding however, that NEB pans to cooperate with APEGA on the investigation.

Canada’s Building and Construction Trades Council said NEB is most connected to the construction industry in its role as a gate keeper, deciding what potentially lucrative energy sector construction work is either green-lighted or stopped. “The NEB has been stable in approving projects,” says council spokesman Christopher Smillie. “There has been no slowdown there, but the NEB will continue to need quality engineers to review applications.”

The NEB is currently reviewing applications for several controversial energy projects including TransCanada’s proposed Energy East Pipeline, and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion —two projects alone worth approximately $18 billion in new construction.

Review of these two projects has required a vast amount of engineering manpower at NEB, Barter says.

APEGA and CEPA did not respond to ENR’s request for comment.

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