One Call programs

Appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources

Topic: One Call programs

Witness: Gaétan Caron, Chair and CEO, NEB

Date: Thursday, March 6, 2014; 8 to 9 AM EST

Introductory Remarks


Good morning, Honorable Senators. My name is Gaétan Caron, and I am the Chair and CEO of the National Energy Board. It is a pleasure to be before you again.

The safety of Canadians and the protection of the environment is the National Energy Board’s top priority, so I welcome the opportunity to speak to you today on the important topic of preventing damage to pipelines, and the role Canada’s One Call services play in that.

Many rules and standards are born out of tragedy, and the NEB’s current framework governing work in the vicinity of pipelines is no exception. Having been at the Board for nearly 35 years, I remember the incident in 1985 at a farm north of Oshawa, Ontario, where a high pressure natural gas pipeline was accidently ruptured by the blade of a 30 tonne plow. The escaping gas ignited resulting in an explosion and fire that killed one person, and injured four.

This, like all pipelines incidents, was preventable. A key outcome of this tragedy was the enactment of the Board’s pipeline crossing regulations, which set the foundation of our damage prevention framework. 

Many years have passed since that incident, but one thing that has not changed is the Board’s resolve to continuously improve how it is meeting its mandate to regulate pipelines for safety and environmental protection.  

And our efforts in this regard are yielding important results, and our goal of zero incidents is not only the right goal, but an achievable goal. Overall in 2013, we saw a decrease in reportable incidents. The frequency of natural gas releases was down, and while we saw an increase in the number of incidents with respect to liquids, overall release volumes were significantly down this year, and have been declining since 2009. In 2013, nearly all liquid releases from NEB regulated energy facilities have been fully remediated, with exceptions only where cleanup is underway. Companies have been doing a better job of monitoring their facilities and reporting incidents.

Having spent nearly 35 years at the NEB, I firmly believe that the facilities we regulate are safe and the environment in which they operate is well protected. At the same time, our work is never finished. We strive to continually improve, as the tragic incident I just described is a poignant reminder of the risks of unsafe activities.

Which brings me to the topic of your important study here today.

The NEB is committed to continually reducing the risks around the facilities it regulates, and we amend our damage prevention framework in response to emerging trends or issues that could affect the safety and security of those facilities.

Unauthorized Activities fall under the Board’s Pipeline Crossing Regulations, and include any excavation activity for which the appropriate permission, or leave of the Board, is required and not obtained, or when safety instructions are not followed.

The Board actively collaborates with the broader Damage Prevention community - which includes other decision makers, regulators, infrastructure and facility owners, municipalities, and the digging and locating community - in pursuit of national best practices for working around pipelines and the reduction in the number of unauthorized activities. The NEB is the federal regulatory champion for the Canadian Common Ground Alliance (or the CCGA), whom you heard from just last week. We share with them the same goal of promoting effective practices to reduce damages to underground infrastructure in order to best ensure public safety and environmental protection.

We supported the CCGA’s application to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for shared use of a national three digit number for 'Call Before You dig' services. While we were disappointed in the CRTC’s decision to decline the request at that time, we recognize that there are other options available that serve the same purpose as a three digit number. For example, "'Clicking' before you dig" may be as effective -  or even more effective - than "'Calling' before you Dig."

The NEB must also create the conditions necessary to hold people accountable for carrying out their responsibilities around pipelines.

We hosted a Safety Forum last spring, where nearly 400 participants representing the public, Aboriginal peoples, industry, academia, government and others, discussed topics such as corporate leadership’s role in building and maintaining a safety culture, the effectiveness of management systems, and the role of performance measurement in risk management. Other areas explored included how industry can work to strengthen public trust, and the evolving role of the regulator.

Our compliance monitoring and enforcement activities support the NEB’s damage prevention framework, and are used to promote safety and environmental protection.

With the passing of the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, the Parliament of Canada provided the NEB with additional tools in our enforcement toolkit, such as the ability to issue monetary penalties, or AMPs. AMPs allow us to issue financial penalties ranging from up to $25,000 for an individual and $100,000 for corporations, per violation, per day, with no maximum total financial penalty.

Having said that, we expect most of our compliance efforts to focus mainly on individual awareness building, and holding companies accountable for their responsibilities to educate and inform.

One of the best ways to be safe is to "Call - or Click - Before You Dig". This single contact initiates the key communication processes that will identify the location of pipelines and other buried utilities, and provide critical information on how to work safely around them. A mandatory requirement to contact a One-Call Centre best ensures that all underground facilities are considered in a decision to proceed with construction or excavation in areas over or near a pipeline.

The NEB has issued a Notice of Proposed Regulatory Change 2013-01. The proposed changes will require anyone planning construction or excavation activities within certain areas set out in the National Energy Board Act and its regulations to make a locate request by contacting a One-Call centre at least three working days before beginning those activities.

If a One-Call centre is not established in the area, parties will be required to contact the pipeline company directly. We will also require pipeline companies to be members of One-Call centres in geographical areas where one exists and the company has a pipeline.

Last summer, this committee released an important report on the safe transportation of hydrocarbons in Canada. In it, it placed great emphasis on the importance of safety culture within companies.

These changes that I have just outlined build on the Board’s commitment to the development of safety cultures in the companies we regulate, which is one of the fundamental ways to address pipeline safety, and further formalize safety culture within regulated safety requirements.

We will continue our efforts to improve pipeline safety and the protection of Canadians and the environment. While we are encouraged by the latest 2013 statistics that show a decrease in reportable incidents, we remain committed to continually improving the damage prevention framework and working towards a reduction in all incidents, with the ultimate goal of seeing none at all.

Thank you once again, Honorable Senators, for the opportunity to speak to you today. In closing, let me assure of the NEB’s resolve to continually improve the safety of Canadians and protection of the environment.

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