Speeches | Bill S-229: An Act Respecting Underground Infrastructure Safety

04 October 2016

Hon. Grant Mitchell moved second reading of Bill S-229, An Act respecting underground infrastructure safety.

He said: Colleagues, there is an entire invisible world of underground infrastructure that delivers and transports energy, television, telecommunications, water and sewage all across our country. It's a web of wires, pipes, fibre optics and oil and gas pipelines that are at the very root of our quality of life and our standard of living.

This bill, Bill S-229, An Act respecting underground infrastructure safety, addresses the need for a comprehensive, rigorous damage-prevention system built around call-before-you-dig notification centres across the country. Such a system is essential to avoid tremendous risks and costs related to damage to our underground infrastructure caused far too frequently by those who dig before they find out literally what is beneath their feet.

I hope to demonstrate in my remarks today that this bill will reduce costs — societal, economic and business — and reduce risks to public health and safety; and I believe it will build confidence in the public about pipeline safety, which will contribute to the social licence needed to build new pipelines. It will do all of this, believe it or not, at no appreciable cost to taxpayers. It doesn't get better than that.

Before I explain those points, I would like to recognize a number of people whose hard work and determination have been critical to developing this important bill. Special thanks to Mike Sullivan, who is here today in the gallery. He is the President of Alberta One-Call and the Executive Director of the Canadian Common Ground Alliance. I would also like to recognize Ginette Fortuné. She is a parliamentary counsel, a Senate lawyer who held the pen in drafting this significant legislation. Mike and Ginette have worked incredibly hard to get this bill to where it is now and to get it right. In particular, they have consulted widely and effectively with industry and with their Canadian Common Ground Alliance colleagues. Jim Tweedie and Nathalie Morneau from the Canadian Common Ground Alliance are here with Mike Sullivan. They too have been instrumental in supporting and advancing this bill.

These Canadian Common Ground Alliance people are members of a unique, special community, a group of people who are passionately dedicated to getting a proper, high-level damage prevention system developed in Canada. They know the consequences and the risks of not getting this right because they see them every day, and they simply want to fix this situation. It has been literally inspirational to work with all these people, most of whom are essentially volunteers. Tirelessly they're working to improve this situation.

I also want to recognize my chief of staff, Sarah Gray, who is also in the gallery and who has led this effort from our side with great skill. She has done an exceptional job, worked tirelessly. Thanks as well to a former member of my staff, Kyle Johnston, who was an important catalyst at the outset in seeing the significance of this project and in getting it started. I should also recognize the various government officials who have offered insight and advice. It's all been much appreciated.

When it comes to underground infrastructure, for the most part and for the longest time it has been the case of out of sight, out of mind. When we turn on water, watch TV, flick on the lights, cook, we seldom think of the web of wires, pipes and pipelines that make all these things possible. In the past several years, however, this lack of awareness of underground infrastructure has started to change, in particular with pipelines as people have become more sensitive to pipelines in light of a number of high-profile spills and in the context of the debate over whether or not it is safe to build new pipelines.

Ironically, while these spills have been very serious and cannot be diminished in their importance, the bulk of damage to pipelines in Canada is not actually caused by the kind of spontaneous structural or technical failures in pipeline systems associated with the spills that we generally see reported in the media.

Great damage and great risks actually come from people who hit pipelines while digging without locating the pipelines and other infrastructure that is unseen and unanticipated underground where they are digging. This occurs in excavations ranging from big construction projects all the way down, if you will, to homeowners digging a post hole for their back yard.

It is this kind of digging damage to pipelines, electrical transmission lines, telecommunication, TV and Internet wires and cables, water mains and sewage pipes that cause enormous societal, business and economic costs, and present great risk of serious injury and even death to members of the public.

It is very hard to assess definitively what these costs amount to each year in Canada because reporting incidents is voluntary and therefore probably quite limited. But here are some indicators: In 2015 we know there were over 10,000 voluntary reports of damage to underground infrastructure in this country. That's 40 damage incidents every day somewhere in Canada, and that is just what is reported, as I say, under a regime where there is no requirement to report. Of those, 79 per cent caused a service disruption. In some cases it also causes health risks and it can endanger lives.

While once again based on limited reporting, costs for reported damage in a recent year in Quebec were assessed at $37 million. A similar study for a recent year in Ontario assessed digging damage and related costs from reported incidents to be $75 million.

Some effort has been made to estimate, by those in the know, that the total cost of digging damage unreported and reported in Canada probably could run as high as $5 billion a year. The cost of disruption to business, repair of damage, deployment of first responders, health care and environmental clean-up can be extremely high. Even if this figure were just 20 per cent of that estimate, $1 billion, this is still an extremely significant cost in addition to the risks inherent to public health and safety.

Let me mention two examples that illustrate the risks and costs of inaction perhaps more vividly. In August of this year, a telecommunications line in northern B.C. was damaged, knocking out services to most of Yellowknife, including 9-1-1. That alone could have serious consequences. One business owner estimated the loss of business to be $35,000.

In June 2015 a gas line was damaged by a contractor digging in Canmore, Alberta, my province. Escaping gas exploded, levelling two homes and damaging 15 others. Four hundred people were evacuated, 50 from a seniors' home; 40 people were injured and 3 hospitalized. Clearly, there is a problem that needs to be dealt with, but the good news is that it is fixable.

It's actually quite hard to believe that there is no coordinated national system of damage prevention through one-call notification systems in this country. I can vividly remember my personal surprise when this was first brought to my attention several years ago during a study by the Senate Energy and Environment Committee on the transportation of dangerous goods. In two separate meetings — one in Calgary, one in Sarnia — two senior executives — one from a pipeline company, one from a gas company — made the same point, that there was only one jurisdiction in Canada that had legislation governing call-before-you-dig notification centres and processes, one jurisdiction. That jurisdiction was Ontario, and they in fact had just recently passed the legislation.

I should say as an aside that the bill was developed and sponsored by MPP Bob Bailey, who was an opposition member, and the bill was passed with all-party support.

That there was not a comprehensive national system backed by legislation truly surprised me and caught me off guard. Since then, it has surprised many others to whom I have told this story. How could it be that something so important and so doable would in some sense be left to chance?

The Energy and Environment Committee subsequently undertook a specific study of call-before-you-dig notification in Canada. It was published in December 2014. It is titled, as you might expect, DIGGING SAFELY — One-call Notification Systems and the Prevention of Damage to Canada's Buried Infrastructure and is worth a read. In addition to confirming the inherent costs and risks in not dealing with this issue, one thing became crystal clear throughout this study. This damage due to inappropriate digging, these costs and these serious risks are preventable if we improve excavation safety systems. Doing so would include the following: All excavators need to call or click — click is becoming more and more prevalent now — to contact a One Call notification centre to request locates before digging. Underground infrastructure owners like pipeline companies, telecommunication companies, et cetera, need to register their buried infrastructure with notification centres. Jurisdictions without notification centres and/or without broadly functioning notification centres need to get those.

It was out of the committee's study and these conclusions that my staff and I made the decision to produce this legislation, Bill S-229. We approached the Canadian Common Ground Alliance and began working with them in earnest.

Initially, and interestingly, we were distracted by the thought that this matter fell largely under provincial jurisdiction, so what was the federal role in this? However, it was also the case, we realized, that the U.S., where they have a very comprehensive, well-managed and well-regulated system, has done that, in spite of the same federal, state and jurisdictional issues. In fact, all 50 states and the federal government participate fully in a coordinated national "call before you dig" system.

What we realized, however, in the Canadian case, was that the federal government in fact has two areas of responsibility for underground infrastructure that provide both the justification and the responsibility for federal involvement and initiative.

First, there are a variety of federal lands under which there is infrastructure. These include parks, Crown lands, military bases, land on which there are federal buildings, and so on.

Second, the federal government also regulates a number of areas — not geographic areas — that involve underground infrastructure. These include interprovincial pipelines under NEB jurisdiction and regulated telecommunication lines under CRTC and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, as well as ports, airports and rail line right of way that fall under Transport Canada.

With that in mind, we have produced Bill S-229, which will create a federal underground infrastructure notification system that will require operators of a federally regulated underground infrastructure, or infrastructure that is located in federal land, to register that infrastructure with a notification centre. It will require someone planning to undertake a ground disturbance to make a locate request to the appropriate notification centre, and it will require operators of registered underground infrastructure, as a result of the locate requests, to identify clearly and quickly the location of the underground infrastructure with markings and relevant descriptive information or, on the other hand, indicate that the proposed ground disturbance is not likely to cause damage to the underground infrastructure.

The notification centres to which I am referring here essentially exist; we would not have to create them. They are serving each province in one form or another, to one level or another, and we could piggyback on those for these federal responsibilities.

The bill also provides a mechanism by which reserves and some other lands subject to the Indian Act can participate in this notification system at their discretion after consultation with the council of any band in question. There will be penalties of up to $10,000 for people and/or companies who do not comply.

Of course, I expect that each of you is thinking: Yes, okay, but what is all this going to cost?

As I alluded to earlier, it's going to cost the government essentially nothing. First, the cost of running notification centres is covered by a nominal fee of $1 or so, paid by infrastructure owners each time a call is made by a potential digger to a notification centre by asking for a locate. You pick up the phone and you ask for a locate in your backyard because you want to dig a fence post or you want to dig a hole to begin a high-rise building. The companies that own the infrastructure will pay the notification centre that fee for each call.

Second, the cost of the locates — that is, sending somebody out to spray-paint the area and to provide more detailed information about location — will be borne by the infrastructure owners.

Third, the cost of providing the data on their underground physical plant to notification centre databases is also borne by infrastructure owners.

There is a provision for the federal government to provide grants to provinces and territories to encourage their work in accommodating this legislation and building upon it in their jurisdictions. These are completely discretionary and would be nominal.

To be sure, this bill will not cover the entire ground infrastructure in the country. The rest falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. However, it will cover a significant amount of underground infrastructure, that which is in federal lands or regulated under federal jurisdiction.

It will also add, along with Ontario's legislation, another model for provinces to follow. It is our hope that the bill and the process of debating, passing and implementing it will raise the prominence and priority of this kind of legislation in the agendas of provincial and territorial governments.

This federal initiative can contribute to momentum for a national system. It is an opportunity for positive, collaborative national leadership that is clearly in the common interest. It will further contribute in another very significant way: Canadians, as I have said — and as we all know — are concerned about pipeline safety. These concerns have affected the public confidence necessary to secure the social licence to allow at least some new pipelines to be built. This bill demonstrates concrete action to significantly enhance pipeline safety and to encourage public confidence in it.

Bill S-229 represents the kind of positive public policy that is in some senses unique. It will significantly reduce societal, economic and business costs, and it will significantly enhance public safety. It will do this at no appreciable cost to governments. At a time when pipeline safety is being widely debated, public confidence remains essential to achieving the social licence required to permit new pipelines to be built. It will contribute to that.

Bill S-229 will enhance the confidence that Canadians can have in pipeline safety and in the safety and security of all their underground infrastructure. All of this seems to me to be immensely good. I welcome your debate and encourage your support.

 Please click here to read this speech in French/ Veuillez appuyer ici pour lire ce discours en français.

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