Nearly all of TransCanada's tar sands pipelines will be the subject of a major audit by Canada's regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB).
Engineer Evan Vokes, a former employee of TransCanada, blew the whistle on the company, alleging that substandard inspection and welding practices are rife throughout the pipeline network making ruptures inevitable. He documented repeated violations of pipeline safety regulations.
The existing tar sands pipeline in Canada leaked 30 times in the first year it was built.
Although TransCanada's CEO asked Vokes to submit documents to senior management, Vokes filed a formal complaint with the National Energy Board when management didn't take action.
"When you are building something to code, you have to comply with the code," Vokes told CBC News. "You don't look at the code and say, ‘Well, this is open to interpretation because it may or may not pose a risk to the integrity of the project.' You're supposed to follow the code because that is the [NEB] regulation."
TransCanada is putting budget and schedule before quality, he says.
The fact that the National Energy Board is taking Vokes seriously "is a recognition that there was something really wrong with TransCanada," Vokes says.
Vokes left the company in late 2011 on "stress leave" and met with NEB officials a few months later. TransCanada fired him in early May.
After confirming that Vokes's allegations were valid, NEB warned TransCanada that it wouldn't tolerate further infractions of regulations related to welding inspections, training of pipeline inspectors and internal engineering standards, reports CBC News.
CBC News found that TransCanada was aware of significant quality problems months before its natural gas pipeline in Wyoming exploded in July, just six months after the "state-of-the-art pipeline" went into service.
When Evan Vokes, a metallurgical engineer, was sent to evaluate the problems with the Bison pipeline in Wyoming, he found examples of shoddy welding and poorly trained inspectors who weren't finding all of the welding problems. Over time, he found these shoddy practices weren't confined to one pipeline, but cut across all TransCanada's operations. In response to his concerns, his supervisors sent him what he describes as "increasingly pressured emails about how it was OK to do it that way."
Vokes and other whistleblowers paint a picture of a company that cuts corners compromising the safety of its pipelines, ignores its own quality control inspectors, and regards the minimum legal bar established by safety regulations as optional guidelines.
Another major pipeline company, Enbridge, has had more than 800 spills since 1999, including the most expensive on-shore oil spill in US history in a tributary of Michigan's Kalamazoo River. First nations in Canada are challenging Shell's tar sands expansion and the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline the company wants to build through western Canada.