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Fired TransCanada Engineer Blows Whistle on Shoddy Keystone Pipeline Work

I promise, Bob: I was not wearing my camos or mask while writing this post.

Tar sands oil and the pipelines that carry them bring unavoidable risks to South Dakota. But TransCanada exacerbates those risks with what a fired engineer with experience on the Keystone pipeline system calls a "culture of non-compliance":

[Evan] Vokes, an expert on pipeline welding practices, worked for TransCanada for five years and was fired without cause in 2012 after persistently raising concerns about the company's safety practices.

In particular, Vokes provided the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources with a number of documented violations of welding and pressure testing codes. The Committee is now studying the safety of pipeline transportation in Canada.

During the construction of a natural gas line feeding one oil sands project, Vokes alleged shoddy workmanship resulting in "a 100 per cent repair rate." When the engineer identified the code violations to the company, his superiors forced him to "retract" his statement, Vokes told the committee.

"Coercion were the TransCanada management tools I experienced in my first months at TransCanada, as the written communications were very different from the oral instructions."

In addition, engineering shortcuts associated with the first phase of the Keystone XL project "resulted in substandard material being used in Keystone pump stations," he alleged [Andrew Nikiforuk, "TransCanada Has a 'Culture of Non-Compliance': Engineer to Senate Committee," The Tyee: The Hook, 2013.06.07].

First phase of the Keystone XL project—that's the Keystone 1 pipeline that runs under East River from Marshall County to Yankton. All four of the pumping stations along that South Dakota stretch of the pipeline sprang leaks in its first year of operation. Those are the pumping stations that TransCanada absurdly tried to exclude from its risk assessment.

Vokes isn't the first engineer to blow the whistle on TransCanada's shoddy work on the Keystone pipeline system. In September 2011, Bechtel inspector Michael Klink found faulty steel, bad construction practices, and pressure from TransCanada to cover up problems on Keystone 1. Of course, it doesn't take an expert to see daylight through TransCanada's welds.

Making mistakes is one thing. Cheating is another. TransCanada's record shows we can't trust them to follow the rulers and take responsibility for the risks their work poses to South Dakota's natural resources.


  1. Barry G Wick 2013.06.10

    If they ran the pipeline through the Black Hills and over Mt. Rushmore, there might be more people behind shutting it down....but they tend to run it through areas where the masses might not complain if a tiny leak were to flood hundreds of uninhabited acres. The engine of democracy is dirty and no amount of toxic dispersant and clean-up can remove all the poisons we're subjected to in the modern world. The mass of the people have forgotten what it was like to be really clean and ever more so in the 21st century when oil and coal are the basis for most of our reality. The descriptive phrase: "the great un-washed"....has much more meaning now when one can find a daily film and grit on one's car every morning in the big city...and it's very likely that same film and grit finds it's way onto our skin and into our lungs....even in areas where we think we have clean air.

  2. UnionCo 2013.06.10

    In fired inspector Michael Klink’s lawsuit (Klink v Bechtel), Klink stated that TransCanada's construction practices included sloppy concrete jobs, poorly spaced rebar, bad welds, and poor pressure testing during the construction of the first Keystone pipeline.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.10

    Hey, UnionCo, how'd that lawsuit turn out?

  4. Rick 2013.06.10

    TransCanada is reckless, reckless, reckless, and the people mewling their support for it are lying, lying, lying. There is no payoff for America. There is no payoff for South Dakota or any of the other states who's approved it. The jobs are a small fraction of the claims of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the vast majority of them will end after one construction season. And the only thing that's left is the liability of it rupturing multiple times, gushing its highly toxic sludge into North America's largest aquifer. All too soon, water will become a more desparately precious commodity than oil, and the fools who sold us this incredibly dumb idea will be fumbling for distractions and scapegoats to blame others on what is clearly a very risky, costly and unneeded tar sands sludge resource. Yes, I'm angry because we all see it coming and because some pigheaded Tea Party Daddy Warbucks says he wants it, too many people are willing to ignore common sense. Stupidity is not a partisan value.

  5. John 2013.06.10

    Nothing to see here, folks; move along. Standard American business practices, folks; privatize the profits; socialize the costs. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

  6. Les 2013.06.11

    Careful Rick, Im not betting this is a TP project. Senator Maher tried to get 2cents/barrel tax(SB161..2010) to build a spill fund capped at 30Mil. It failed to pass the Senate at the hands of those same folks you might expect by a vote of 23 for and 11 against. It must have needed 2/3.
    Another reason besides Rounds insurance bill veto's I've worked to dethrone some including SOS Gant, Gray, Teezin, Haverly, Brown, Nelson, Olson, Novstrup, Fryslie and Jean Hunhoff. Same names Rounds had in the bag for his unpopular veto's both here and elsewhere.
    Senator Maher must have learned his lesson as he didn't re introduce any similar legis. You bring that again and we'll kick you out of caucus possibly?

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