A former TransCanada Corporation employee who blew the whistle on the rising pipeline incidents and rule-breaking by Big Oil has been chosen as the recipient of the 2013 Golden Whistle Blower Award. Evan Vokes, a former professional materials engineer at TransCanada Pipelines (TCPL), received the award in Ottawa on Monday.
The award, sponsored by Canadians for Accountability and presented by the Ottawa-based Peace Order and Good Government (POGG), is presented annually to “an individual who has done a service to Canada in the pursuit of truth in government.”
Vokes, who worked for TransCanada for five years, helped the CBC and The Tyee investigate rising pipeline incidents and cover-up in the burgeoning tar sands industry. TransCanada is the Calgary-based the owner of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
“Under deadlines of cost and schedule for pipelines, quality concerns are reduced from compliance with the code to what risks can the company get away with,” Vokes told The Tyee. “The controls for the industry are there but they are not being implemented or enforced. We have the technology to do things right, but we don’t have the willpower.”
Added Vokes: “The pipeline industry must take accountability for the true safe construction of pipelines rather than a risk based approach based on faulty data sets on threats to integrity.”
A statement from Canadians for Accountability noted that Vokes “made positive technical and business changes while repeatedly questioning the business practices and competency of some managers and pipeline inspectors” during his employment with TCPL.
“He informed TCPL through several levels of management that the failure to follow code and regulation was key in a then-recent catastrophic failure of a new pipeline,” said the statement.
Vokes also documented and communicated the TCPL’s “negligence regarding enforcement of compliance with the National Energy Board (NEB) Onshore Pipeline Regulations” and “systemic failure to follow code and regulations.”
In its 2011 “Pipeline Occurances” report, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada noted an increase of pipeline incidents from a yearly average of 95 incidents in 2002 to 161 in 2011.
According to The Tyee, Vokes has also filed complaints with the National Energy Board, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA is a self-regulating professional group that represents engineers) and the Prime Minister’s Office documenting repeated violations of standard safety regulations and codes.
Here’s the full statement from Canadians for Accountability:
During Mr. Vokes’ employment with TCPL he made positive technical and business changes while repeatedly questioning the business practices and competency of some managers and pipeline inspectors. He informed TCPL through several levels of management that the failure to follow code and regulation was key in a then-recent catastrophic failure of a new pipeline. In response to an invitation from TCPL CEO, Mr. Vokes expressed concems about what he viewed as TCPL’s negligence regarding enforcement of compliance with the National Energy Board (NEB) Onshore Pipeline Regulations. Several events of current non-compliance were tabled and it was noted that, though Mr. Vokes was accountable, he was not in control of those events. He remains concerned that welds could fail in the future and lead to pipeline failures with negative environmental impacts and personal safety consequences.
Workplace friction eventually led to stress leave in November 2011. In March 2012 Mr. Vokes met with the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Alberta Professional Association of Engineers and Geoscientists (APEGA) to discuss the response to a failed internal audit that was the cause of his stress leave. Although TCPL could find no fault in Mr. Vokes’ input to the internal audit, he was dismissed by TCPL on May 8, 2012.
In a public document addressed to TCPL in October 2012, the NEB validated Mr. Vokes’ strong concems on pipeline joints and the required independence of inspection of pipeline to ensure compliance to code and regulation. The NEB did not reveal any other areas of the complaint by Mr. Vokes nor the response by TCPL. To date, the USA regulator PHSMA has made no statements concerning the submissions by Mr. Vokes and TCPL remains under investigation. Since May 2012 Mr. Vokes has found only limited employment.
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Photo: The Tyee