3 ways the recent CBC report on pipeline safety incidents distorts the facts

Last week the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) released a report, which suggests pipeline incidents in Canada have doubled in the past decade. The CBC’s online interactive map contains data the CBC obtained from the National Energy Board (NEB) and other sources. The manner in which this data is being used is misleading.

We’d like to provide some context for the data so Canadians will have the complete picture. Here are three facts you should know about the CBC’s pipeline safety incident report:

FACT #1: It’s not all about spills. The report contains data on all incidents on federally regulated pipelines over the past 12 years, including twisted ankles and other minor injuries. CBC’s map portrays such incidents as equivalent to some spills.

Canada’s transmission pipeline industry takes their responsiblities seriously. Our member companies report all incidents to the NEB – including those that are not specifically pipeline related. This means the data CBC has presented includes such things as a worker accidentally lighting a glove on fire with a cigarette or a tree falling on a power line near a meter station.

These are clearly not incidents directly involving pipelines or the product they carry, yet CBC’s map would imply they are.

FACT #2: You can’t make this stuff up. The CBC admits to filling in the blanks where data is missing.

The interactive map that CBC used to present this data is impressive. But it doesn’t show the entire picture. The broadcaster stated in its methodology that information was missing from the NEB’s database. Where this was the case, CBC filled in the blanks to “add clarity”. And now they’ve asked ordinary citizens to add their own impressions to the map – a highly subjective method if ever there was one.

In a recent news release about the CBC report, CEPA’s former president and CEO, Brenda Kenny, explained that while public input is welcomed and encouraged, data and information related to pipeline leaks and incidents is the responsibility of the regulator.

“CEPA welcomes factual stories and experiences from the public. Our members routinely meet with landowners to ensure they remain responsive to their needs,” Kenny stated. “However, the role of the regulator, as an unbiased, neutral party, is to collect information regarding pipeline incidents. The regulator will use the information it collects to make decisions that are in the best interest of all Canadians.”

FACT #3: More reporting doesn’t mean more incidents. Pipeline incident reporting has been on the rise over the past decade because the industry has reported to the regulator all incidents that happen.

Between 2002 and 2012, Canada’s transmission pipeline industry is proud to have a 99.999% safety record (you can check out our numbers here) but recognizes that even one leak is too many. As the industry strives for zero leaks, our members are focused on continuous improvement and increased transparency. As a result, over the past 12 years there has been a major increase in the reporting of all incidents.

A higher number of incident reports is not indicative of a decline in performance, rather more information is being provided to the regulator and the public.

At CEPA we believe it’s important that Canadians be given the facts on pipeline safety so that they can have informed conversations about pipelines.

Misleading the public by using inforgraphics that don’t explain the context perpetrates myths, not facts. Canadians deserve better than this.