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Thursday 29 June 2017


Guest Post by Cabot Martin

We now approach the Muskrat tipping point.

It will be painful – a prospect emphasised by the recent release of the SNC-Lavalin May 17, 2013 Risk Assessment Report following on the revelations of the “Anonymous Engineer” on pre-sanction “book cooking”  as first revealed on Uncle Gnarley.
Stand by for more and escalating leaks.

But the surest sign of the coming storm is the return to public airways of one Ed Martin, former Nalcor CEO.
Like a character in poorly made sequel of a powerful horror movie, Mr. Martin continued on CBC TV to spout the same sort of World Class nonsense that has helped put us in our present terrible Muskrat bind.

Of particular inadvertent hilarity was his attempt to say that nothing that has occurred since his departure can be blamed on him.

Reminds one of an arsonist who tries to tell the Court:
“Don’t blame me Your Honour if the building burnt to the ground. It wasn’t half gone when I left the scene; blame the rest on the Fire Department who did a poor job of containing my raging inferno.”

No, Ed, you and your cohorts will be held accountable for the whole Muskrat mess.

And soon if the recently released and decidedly curious SNC-Lavalin document of May 2013 is any indication.

It’s a pretty damming document – even if it doesn’t cover all the bases; for instance, nothing on Nalcor’s use of crude oil prices wildly unrealistic by industry standards even at sanction in December 2012.

That’s in part understandable as the SNC Lavalin report’s orientation is engineering.

But the parts on the lack of geotechnical support for cost and safety analysis before sanction are hair raising enough by themselves.

Anyone who has built or been in on the building of a sub-division, warehouse, office building or dream home (let alone a Multi-Billion Dollar hydro dam in the wilds of Labrador) knows that the very first and critical thing you do in planning a project is find out about the ground on which you plan to build.

For an ordinary building, if you ignore or get the ground conditions wrong, you can expect to face big cost over runs.

But when you are building a massive hydro dam, if you ignore or get the ground conditions wrong, you will not only face big cost over runs – you will also put peoples lives at risk.

It was incumbent on Nalcor and it’s technical advisors to strictly ascertain the risk of catastrophic failure because of soil chemistry, insufficient soil strength, poor load bearing, the flow of water from fractured rock and other critical aspects of the Muskrat Falls ground conditions.

And this could only be done by measuring and judging those factors by means of a comprehensive geotechnical program carried out by qualified independent engineers and geo-technicians.

So what does SNC-Lavalin say about the amount of geotechnical work that had been done when Nalcor asked for and received Project Sanction from the Dunderdale Government in December 2012?
Frightening !  

(1)   No geotechnical work under the location of the critical concrete North Dam and its associated coffer dam – you know, that's the place where all winter they have been grouting, grouting, grouting to seal up cracks in the riverbed rock to stop water coming up through the exposed “dried up “ riverbed behind the coffer dam.

       (2) Limited geotechnical work under the Muskrat Falls switchyard

       (3) No geotechnical on the Trans Labrador Transmission Right of Way

AND unbelievably on the safety critical North Spur

(4)   “ Insufficient geotechnical information for the North Spur area . As limited geotechnical investigations have been performed on the North Spur adverse conditions could be discovered during construction leading to major rework, cost overruns and delays. COMMENT: Because of Geotech uncertainties , we could find bolder (sic) or unstable soil which could result in a major scope change .– all quoted verbatim from the SNC Lavalin May 2013 Report which adds RISK LEVEL – VERY HIGH ; CONSEQUENCE – VERY HIGH”

Now “major scope change“ with regard to an admittedly unstable dam component like the North Spur is engineer code for “Your proposed North Spur stabilization design could be unsafe and to make it safe will require as yet unknown and un-costed extra work.”

And also unstated is that geotechnical conditions may be found (like Quick Clay) which will in effect be impossible to cure.

And if you can’t cure that problem, you will have to cancel the whole project because use of the North Spur as a key (nearly 50%) component of the overall dam system is an essential element of the project.

This was the situation at the date of sanction (and still is) a real and present risk .

Because for all Nalcor’s bluster, the amount of geotechnical information on the North Spur is still totally inadequate – for instance, the drilling density on the North Spur itself is still far too low and large areas (particularly upslope toward the Trans Labrador Highway) are totally devoid of test drilling locations and drill results.

Yes – that’s correct - right up to this very minute when the reservoir is partially filled and lives downstream are in increased danger – catastrophic failure of the North Spur is a real and present risk.

Plainly put – Nalcor has built a potential timebomb regarding whose character they have big information gaps.

Let’s focus on this.

At sanction in December 2012, SNC Lavalin knew of Nalcor’s reckless position; and so did at least some key Nalcor officials who were working side by side with SNC Lavalin.

What about Premier Dunderdale? or the Minister(s) of Natural Resources in her administration? How about the Minister responsible for Dam Safety ?  How about those who stand to benefit most – say like Emera ?

And why didn’t SNC Lavalin speak up before Sanction instead of after ?

Ah Yes! Bring on the Forensic Audit.

And don’t forget to take the audit all the way back to Danny’s original Muskrat Falls feasibility/financing contract with SNC Lavalin in 2006.
SNC Lavalin – now all cleaned up they say - but back in 2006 what a lovely lot they were -- with CEO Pierre Duhaime and VP Riadh Ben Aissa dealing with Muskrat while at the same time running an international corruption scheme including McGill hospital construction contract bribes up in Montreal.

Madam Charbonneau could, I am sure, suggest someone familiar with these lads to help in the Forensic Audit. 
Anyway, make no wonder there was talk just before sanction in December 2012, that the Dunderdale Cabinet was getting cold feet and originally wanted to give Ed Martin and Muskrat only a very qualified “sanction” – one conditional on no actual construction contracts being let until further information was forthcoming.

But the 8th floor drama surrounding how that particular near revolt against Nalcor was defused is a story for another day.
On the other hand, a discussion of the contents and SNC Lavalin’s purpose and timing in the preparation of the recently released May 2013 document and Ed Martin’s “Report? – what Report?” defence deserves immediate comment.

First, the SNC Lavalin report is clear in stating that SNC Lavalin accepted that it had an obligation to come clean to it’s client Nalcor on the fact that Muskrat was really not ready to move ahead even if it had been “ sanctioned” by Government.

Second, this report, however revealing and thus helpful, has the distinct air of a self-serving attempt by SNC Lavalin to construct a Firewall regarding it’s legal liability regarding the Muskrat screw up after sanction had taken place.

The geotechnical deficiencies set out above and the other serious defects the Report points out are glaring and they obviously weren’t discovered by SNC Lavalin all of a sudden in March 2013 ; they must have been obvious to SNC Lavalin (and to at least some of Nalcor’s engineers) in November 2012 prior to sanction.

And then there is Ed Martin and his “Never saw it” defence.
Pro Muskrat surrogates are all over this on the airwaves; spinning, spinning, spinning.

Ed, they say, was “at most in a room” when SNC Lavalin (in SNC Lavalin’s own words) “attempted” to give Nalcor their damming document.

“Attempted” to give someone a critical document with billions and lives on the line?  
How can someone fail in an “attempt” to deliver such a document with Ed Martin across the Board Room table?

Were there cries from Nalcor of “Report, no, no ! Not a Report! How dare you try to give us a Report! Out with you.”?
Or did Ed simply put his hands behind his back and say “I see no report; nice talking to you; have a good day.”?

Why didn’t SNC Lavalin, in the face of such or similar behavior,  simply slide its Report across the table and say – “Here it is – don’t read it if you don’t want to – but we’ve done our duty and you have been warned – Good Day.”

Or was all this some sort of ritualistic co-operative pantomime with SNC able to say later:
“Your Honour, we can’t be blamed – we “gave” them a report saying the thing was all screwed up”

And Nalcor, on the other hand, would be able to say at the same time
“Your Honour, don’t look at us : what Report? there is no proof we ever took any SNC Lavalin report or ever saw it.”

Oh Dear ! Oh Dear !
Oh what tangled webs we weave ! 

Lawyer up Boys. Lawyer up.