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article imageWhistleblower calls TransCanada's practices 'organized crime'

By Brett Wilkins     Jun 11, 2013 in Environment
Ottawa - Testifying before a Canadian Senate committee last week, a former TransCanada Corp. employee turned whistleblower described unsafe business practices which he likened to "organized crime."
Evan Vokes, who was fired from TransCanada-- the Canadian corporation building the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline system-- last May after he repeatedly raised concerns about safety issues (although it is not clear if this is why he was terminated), testified before the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources in Ottawa on Thursday. The materials engineer told the committee that TransCanada "has a culture of non-compliance," "coercion" and dangerously shoddy workmanship.
"The documentation proves that TransCanada took significant public safety risks," Vokes asserted.
Vokes claimed TransCanada engaged in "deeply entrenched business practices that ignored legally required regulations and codes."
"It's organized crime, in my opinion," Vokes told the Huffington Post. "The source of the revenue is legal, but how they go about it isn't legal."
Vokes told the Senate committee that during the construction of a natural gas line that was part of one oil sands project, TransCanada's workmanship was so deficient that it led to a "100 percent repair rate." When he brought the code violations to the company's attention, Vokes claims that his bosses attempted to silence him. He also says that engineering shortcuts taken during the first phases of the Keystone XL pipeline construction "resulted in substandard material being used" in pump stations.
During the construction of another gas pipeline, Vokes and the welding team "found that generally over 100 welding procedures were signed off... when they did not meet code."
"Senior management still did not step in to stop the practices that were exposed" after learning of them, Vokes alleged.
Problems with the brand-new Bison gas line in Wyoming, on which Vokes worked, resulted in a major rupture and explosion in 2011.
Vokes claimed that TransCanada's "culture of noncompliance" was attributable to "a mix of politics and commercial interests that has resulted in false public claims of exceptional industry practice when the reality is that industry struggles to comply with code and regulation."
Vokes' testimony was refuted by a statement from TransCanada Corp., which read, in part: "We can always make up lost dollars but we can't ever repair the damage and devastation of a catastrophic event. That's why we take great exception to the claims by Mr. Vokes that we do not take safety and compliance issues seriously-- our track record and the safety of our energy infrastructure network shows that we do."
TransCanada, which is based in Calgary, Alberta, is building the Keystone XL pipeline to carry raw oil sands bitumen from Canada primarily to refineries on the Gulf Coast of the United States. The multi-billion-dollar project would significantly increase tar sands oil production, which the Sierra Club says is "the most toxic fossil fuel on the planet."
Tar sands production, the Sierra Club asserts, "leaves in its wake scarred landscapes and a web of pipelines and polluting refineries all while delaying our transition to a clean energy economy."
The Tyee reports that tar sands production "on a per barrel basis creates three to four times more climate-changing emissions than conventional oil."
Many indigenous groups oppose Keystone XL because they say it could damage sacred sites, pollute their land and water, and adversely affect the health of their people.
There have been dozens of major protests against Keystone XL throughout North America.
While Canada's Conservative-led government and industry lobbyists have been pushing the United States to approve the controversial pipeline extension, the Obama administration has thus far refused to do so.
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