Evan Vokes

Exclusive: Release of Inspection Reports From TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline Expose Risk of Future Spills

The US government agency responsible for interstate pipelines recorded a catalog of problems with the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline and the Cushing Extension, a DeSmog investigation has found.
 
Inspectors at the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) observed TransCanada’s contractors violating construction design codes established to ensure a pipeline’s safety, according to inspection reports released to DeSmog under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
 
Evan Vokes, former TransCanada materials engineer-turned-whistleblower, told DeSmog the problems uncovered in the reports show issues that could lead to future pipeline failures and might also explain some of the failures the pipeline had already suffered.
 
Vokes claimed PHMSA was negligent in failing to use its powers to shut down construction of the pipeline when inspectors found contractors doing work incorrectly. “You cannot have a safe pipeline without code compliance,” Vokes said.

TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline Resumes Operations Under Supervision After South Dakota Dilbit Spill

TransCanada received permission from federal regulators to re-start the Keystone Pipeline a week after a 16,800-gallon spill in South Dakota. The pipeline started back up on Sunday morning at a reduced operating pressure.
 
The incident has given ammunition to a group appealing the decision by the South Dakota Public Utility Commission (PUC) to re-certify TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, despite President Obama’s denial of a permit needed to cross international borders. 
 
The PUC reasoned that the next president could decide to issue the permit — a reminder that TransCanada has not given up on building the northern route of the Keystone XL. However, this most recent spill renews questions about the company’s ability to build safe pipelines.
 
When Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada materials engineer-turned-whistleblower, heard about a small spill along the Keystone Pipeline, he guessed that the leak would be found at a transition weld near where the pipeline crossed under a road. Transition welds connect thinner-walled pipe to thicker-walled pipe.

Exclusive: Newly Released Inspection Reports on Keystone XL’s Southern Route Fuel Doubt Over ‘Safest Pipeline Ever Built' Claims

TransCanada’s claim that the southern route of the Keystone XL Pipeline is the safest pipeline ever built in the United States is challenged by the release of new documentation confirming multiple code violations.
 
Daily inspection reports on the construction of the pipeline obtained by the Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group, renew questions about the pipeline’s integrity.

Keystone XL Permit Hearing Concludes After Nine Contentious Days in South Dakota

TransCanada’s days of having its pipeline permit requests rubber-stamped are long over. A nine-day hearing to reconsider its Keystone XL permit through South Dakota proved that. 

Yet many left the hearing in Pierre, South Dakota, wondering if the proceedings were merely a formality.

TransCanada Keystone XL Hits New Turbulence As South Dakota Permit Hearing Implodes Over Pipeline Corrosion, Market Demand

Keystone corrosion TransCanada root cause report

Holes too big to fix were poked in TransCanada’s narrative that its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built. And questions were raised about how the pipeline company’s financial dealings are set up during Public Utilities Commission hearings in Pierre, South Dakota this week where state regulators are tasked to decide if the company is capable of following the rules the state set when the original Keystone pipeline permit was granted in 2010.

A team of lawyers representing Native American tribes and the grassroots group Dakota Rural Action took the upper hand during the proceedings as they tried to have a TransCanada executive’s testimony impeached. The proceedings took on a circus-like atmosphere when TransCanada was unable to prevent lines of questioning it didn’t like. 

TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline Network Under Investigation by Federal Regulators

A month after revealing that TransCanada is under a compliance review for the Keystone 1 Pipeline, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) disclosed it is also investigating the operations of Keystone XL's southern route, renamed the Gulf Coast Pipeline when the project was split in half.

Exclusive: TransCanada Keystone 1 Pipeline Suffered Major Corrosion Only Two Years In Operation, 95% Worn In One Spot

Julie Dermansky

Documents obtained by DeSmogBlog reveal an alarming rate of corrosion to parts of TransCanada's Keystone 1 pipeline. A mandatory inspection test revealed a section of the pipeline's wall had corroded 95%, leaving it paper-thin in one area (one-third the thickness of a dime) and dangerously thin in three other places, leading TransCanada to immediately shut it down. The cause of the corrosion is being kept from the public by federal regulators and TransCanada.

Questions Raised About Integrity of Keystone XL's Southern Route After Conditions Added for Northern Leg

The Keystone XL pipeline's southern route passes under Eleanor Fairchild's Texas property, so she got angry when she learned that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has added two new conditions to the 57 already required for construction of the pipeline's northern route.

“My fears were confirmed,” Fairchild told DeSmogBlog. “The regulators knew the southern route wasn’t built safely. It is like they have said to hell with us in Texas and Oklahoma.”


Eleanor Fairchild was defiant when TransCanada started installing the pipeline on her land. She kept a watchful eye during the installation and repair of the pipeline. ©2012 Julie Dermansky

Julia Trigg Crawford, another Texas landowner who fought TransCanada in the courts, shared a link to an Associated Press story that focuses on the two new conditions. “Read this ASAP to see why Texans and Oklahomans were so outraged about TransCanada's abysmal construction record on the southern leg of the Keystone XL,” she wrote.

Julia Trigg Crawford
Julia Trigg Crawford was labeled an activist by TransCanada attorney James Freemand. She considers herself a patriot for standing up for all Americans' property rights. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

The conditions require TransCanada to hire a third-party contractor chosen by PHMSA to monitor the construction and make reports to the U.S. government on whether the work is sound. Additionally, TransCanada must “develop and implement a quality management system that would apply to the construction of the entire Keystone XL project in the U.S. to ensure that this pipeline is — from the beginning — built to the highest standards by both Keystone personnel and its many contractors.”

The Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group that independently monitored the pipeline installation after failing to stop it, wrote on its blog that the new conditions suggest there are serious problems with the southern route.

“TransCanada’s internal quality management and PHMSA’s external inspection program were inadequate, if not fatally flawed. The failures implied by these new conditions beg the question: If TransCanada wasn’t adequately inspecting its own work, and PHMSA didn’t have the third-party inspection company it needed for effective oversight, was anyone actually watching TransCanada?”

Whistleblower Evan Voke’s Evidence Against TransCanada Whitewashed By Regulators

Pipeline safety regulators in North America have done nothing but write warning letters to TransCanada in the two years since former employee Evan Vokes revealed evidence indicating the company had been breaking the rules.

A recently released report by the Canadian National Energy Board on TransCanada's integrity management programs stated: “There are areas where the company was found to be out of compliance.” The board gave TransCanada 30 days to come up with a plan to fix things internally.

In response, Vokes released a statement through the advocacy group, Public Citizen stating:

The Canadian government's audit criticizing TransCanada’s failings is a start, but leaves numerous safety concerns unaddressed. An audit based on paper and interviews only cannot catch non-compliance in the field. In my experience, TransCanada’s management failings are systemic and won’t be fixed simply by reviewing what TransCanada says its policies are on paper. These kind of reviews have not fixed the problem in the past and they aren’t sufficient now. Time and again, TransCanada’s internal and third-party audit systems have failed to catch the repeated substandard practice of engineering in the construction and maintenance of its pipelines. Unless regulators in Canada and the United States step up to the plate to ensure compliance in the field, future ruptures and risks to Americans are inevitable.”

The Canadian Senate held hearings in 2013 about the transport of hazardous materials after Vokes went to the media with what he said was proof that TransCanada was breaking the law. During the hearings the National Energy board testified they had verified much of the evidence Vokes provided.

The Senate’s report cites the National Energy Board's conclusion that TransCanada's incidents of non-compliance do not represent immediate threats to the safety of people or the environment. The report notes the board advanced its previously scheduled audit of TransCanada to include the specific concerns raised by Vokes, but recommends no further action.

“The lack of accountability with regulators is appalling,” Vokes told DeSmog Blog. He says he came forward because the oath he took to become an engineer requires him to put public safety first.

TransCanada Whistleblower Evan Vokes Details Lack of Confidence in Keystone XL

Originally published by The Progressive

Evan Vokes never gave any thought to whistleblowers before realizing he would need to blow a shrill blast against his former employer, TransCanada, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. As an engineer he takes his oath to protect public safety seriously.

Like Jeffery Wingand, the former tobacco industry insider-turned-whistleblower, Vokes is motivated by the consequences that industry's reckless actions can have on society, rather than by any personal vendetta against TransCanada. But Vokes hasn't had the satisfaction of seeing the insider information he shared have an effect on the pipeline industry, so his work is not yet done. 

Environmental groups have been pressuring President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, a high capacity, high pressure line that would transport diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands crude is more carbon intensive than conventional crude oil, as well as more corrosive, creating the potential that dilbit will erode pipelines faster. Spills can cause irreparable damage to water supplies, land values and ecosystems.

Vokes, in the pro pipeline camp, has grave reservations about this too. But he is primarily concerned about the pipeline itself, so shoddily built that it may well poison aquifers and harm people's health. President Obama has told the nation that his decision on the Keystone XL  pipeline will be based on whether or not it significantly increases carbon emissions.

Vokes hopes that after TransCanada's code violations become public knowledge, the President will also give weight to the project’s integrity and address the risks of catastrophic consequences.

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