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Canadian pipeline whistleblower testifies in Keystone hearing

Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada employee and pipeline whistleblower, testified last week before a raucous State Department hearing on the controversial Keystone Pipeline in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Wearing a suit and tie, Vokes, a materials engineer, brought hundreds of opponents to the $7-billion project to their feet with dramatic testimony about TransCanada's operating practices.

Last year Vokes lodged a complaint with federal pipeline regulators in Canada and the U.S., the prime minister's office and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGGA) that alleged that TransCanada, Keystone's proponent, had failed to uphold rules on weld inspections. Shortly afterwards TransCanada fired him without cause in May 2012.

Last October, the National Energy Board confirmed that it had investigated and verified two parts of Vokes' six-part complaint on regulatory non-compliance against TransCanada, one of the country's most active corporate lobbyists in Ottawa. Vokes will soon testify before a Canadian Senate committee.

The NEB, which regulates some 70,000 kilometres worth of interprovincial pipelines, said TransCanada is now taking "remediation measures" to uphold the law on pipeline safety.

Here is Vokes's startling testimony in full:

Hello, my name is Evan Vokes. I was a Professional Engineer that worked within TransCanada's Materials Engineering department that was accountable for engineering standards with a very strong role in code and regulation compliance. As result of my duty of care within the materials, welding and nondestructive examination fields, I became the third TransCanada whistleblower.

While pipeline technology has advanced, it is pipeline construction practices that have continued to cause grief for PHMSA when engineers such as myself know it can be done correctly and safely. Although I had been actively looking for compliance before my termination from TCPL, it became apparent that the only change to move this company to compliance would come with complaints to regulators. I will share some of the highlights of the allegations.

a) TransCanada used the wrong standard of acceptance for pipeline station welding in USA for years.

b) TransCanada operated a culture of intimidation and coercion to meet its construction objectives when weld acceptance impacted construction schedule.

c) TransCanada contracted the original Keystone to the lowest standard they could economically achieve, which was an affront to long term quality of bitumen pipelines. The fact that they did not use simple technology that Nova Gas invented on Keystone when due to a rash of failures, PHMSA had issued an advisory to adopt this technology.

d) The Keystone quality manager deliberately undermined my duties on KXL preconstruction with a regulation violation and subsequently he wrote an email gloating over the personal blow he struck at the only person that stood up to a corrupt management.

e) My opinion is that arrogance is the basis of TransCanada's management as vice presidents formed our policies that led to noncompliance in Canada, but none of them took responsibility when I held their policies to task.

f) Based on evidence to support my serious regulatory and code complaints given to the TransCanada senior managers and auditors, TCPL did not discipline any employees for grievous actions that were violations of TransCanada ethics policies and our Permit to Practice Engineering.

g) Due to investigation timelines, TransCanada has not had to respond to the PHMSA so there are no learnings that will be applied to KXL. I would be happy to provide the committee with proof of these allegations already in the hands of PHMSA and select media.

h) TransCanada has not been forward with this hearing and stakeholders about the risks of the original Keystone, including the cause of the outage of October 2012. I would call upon an ethical corporation to be transparent about this serious incident.

In conclusion, I presented evidence to PHMSA that TransCanada intentionally violated codes and regulations. While I believe in building pipelines as the safest way to move product, I do not approve of the self-interest of the management of this company, deceiving all that are legally bound to do business with it. TransCanada's management has not demonstrated the moral fiber to ensure compliance.

Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk is both an Alberta landowner and a reporter. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

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