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What caused the great Burnaby oil spill of July 24, 2007, when a sewer contractor sliced into a pipeline, creating a geyser of oil? The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has released its report, revealing the classic elements common to major spills:1. The oil company, Kinder Morgan (KM), didn’t keep accurate records of its pipeline’s location. Even though it had verified parts of the pipeline location 25 times in the past 50 years, it never used this information to update its 1957 drawing.
2. The contractor relied on KM’s 1957 drawing, and did not insist on verification before construction.
3. Because of poor communication within KM, senior KM staff didn’t realize that construction of the sewer was starting.
4. KM, the consultant and the contractor each assumed that the other had primary responsibility for determining when locates were necessary.
5. None of the parties insisted on compliance with National Energy Board regulations, which required an on-site pre-construction meeting, pipeline locates before construction, and KM’s supervision of excavation.
6. The contractor hit the pipeline with its shovel 5 times before tearing it open, without noticing.
7. When KM became aware of the spill, it did not properly implement its emergency shutdown procedures, and shut off the bottom end of the damaged pipe first. This allowed gravity to force huge amounts of oil out of the hole.
This is the traditional recipe for a major accident, as documented by Braithwaite decades ago: Obsolete records, poor communication, inadequate training, and an unclear division of responsibilities. These are the very elements that quality management systems, such as ISO 14001, are meant to address. As all three parties bear some of the blame, affected property owners will likely be able to claim compensation from all three: KM, the consultant and the contractor.

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