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Poor monitoring of pipelines could harm Canadians: watchdog

Transport Canada may be putting the well-being of Canadians in jeopardy by failing to properly monitor pipeline risks, according to the federal government's top environmental watchdog.

"While major spills and releases involving dangerous products are rare, they can have significant consequences for Canadians' health, the economy, and the natural environment," reads a report released this week from Environmental Commissioner Scott Vaughan. "The shipment of dangerous products must be managed well to reduce the risk and impact of spills and releases."

The report focussed specifically on Transport Canada and the National Energy Board, key players in the monitoring and enforcement of pipeline safety regulations.

It found that Transport Canada "lacks a consistent approach" to making sure pipeline operators meet the highest standards.

"As a consequence," the report read, "it cannot ensure that sites are inspected according to the highest risk."

And of the instances where pipeline operators failed to comply with regulations, it said, there was only full evidence that 27 percent of them corrected their practices.

"Many of the issues our audit identified in Transport Canada are not new; an internal audit identified these same concerns over five years ago," the report added. "The Department has yet to correct some of the key weaknesses in its regulatory oversight practices."

The National Energy Board fared a little better in Vaughan's opinion, showing evidence that it "had identified gaps and deficiencies" in its monitoring processes.

But, the report concluded, "there is little indication that it has followed up to ensure that these deficiencies have been corrected."

This isn't the first time Vaughan has taken a hard look at Canada's energy industry.

He released a scathing report on Alberta's oil sands in October, stating that "decisions about oilsands projects have been based on incomplete, poor or non-existent environmental information that has, in turn, led to poorly informed decisions."

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate change issues for The Tyee.

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