Groups launch public campaign calling for independent review of pipeline safety
BY KAREN KLEISS, EDMONTONJOURNAL.COM JUNE 25, 2012
EDMONTON – A coalition of 17 landowner and environmental groups on Monday launched an advertising campaign to demand an independent review of pipeline safety in Alberta.
An open letter published in four Alberta newspapers urges Premier Alison Redford to protect the province’s water supply by reviewing the rules governing pipelines that cross rivers.
The call comes after three pipeline leaks in the past five weeks, including a break in a Plains Midstream line that poured up to 475,000 litres of light sour crude into the Red Deer River.
“We’ve gone the traditional route of lobbying the regulators for years and years and years, and government, and environment ministers, the whole gauntlet. They always say ‘smile, be happy, go away,” said Don Bester of the Alberta Surface Rights Group, one of the organizations in the coalition.
“We’re asking for an independent review of the regulations and the way we’re handling these 40- or 50-year-old pipelines that are crossing our river systems.”
The advertisement will run in three central Alberta newspapers and in VUE weekly.
It is a response to comments made last earlier this month by Plains Midstream vice-president Stephen Bark, who said the company was lucky because the pipeline was wasn’t flowing and the river was swollen with rainwater. Otherwise, he said, the spill could have been worse.
The advertisement begins with the bold headline: “Are you feeling lucky?”
“With over 320,000 km of oil and gas related pipelines in this province, how lucky do you feel? Premier Redford, we shouldn’t have to rely on luck,” the advertisement reads.
“You must take action to protect our water and our families from oil spills, starting with an independent review of pipeline safety in Alberta.”
Redford said last week she is “certainly not opposed” to a more thorough study of pipeline integrity in Alberta, but that she won’t consider it until the Energy Resources Conservation Board has completed its investigation into the recent spills.
That process typically takes about a year, sometimes longer.
Energy Minister Ken Hughes has previously said the regulations that are currently in place are sufficient.
“The systems that we have in place today are appropriate,” Hughes said last week. “The energy industry currently is accountable already for every foot of pipeline that they have, and they conduct themselves with that accountability under the regulatory framework that we have in Alberta.”
Energy Resources Conservation Board spokesman Bob Curran said Monday that section 43 of Alberta’s Pipeline Regulation currently requires companies to conduct annual inspections of pipelines that cross over rivers.
Curran said companies recognize the repercussions of spills — both social and environmental — and that “it’s not like companies are actively trying to sidestep regulation.”
He said 90 field inspectors conduct targeted inspections across the province. In 2011, they conducted more than 1,700 inspections and investigations.
Curran said they also ensure companies are conducting the required annual inspections at river crossings. There are thousands of river crossings in Alberta, but the precise number is not known.
On June 18, roughly 230,000 litres of heavy crude leaked out of Enbridge’s Athabasca pipeline near Elk Point.
On June 7, up to 475,000 litres of light sour crude leaked into the Red Deer River from a Plains Midstream pipeline that crosses the river.
On May 22, roughly 80,000 litres of light sweet crude spilled from a Pace Oil and Gas pipeline onto the muskeg about 20 kilometres southeast of Rainbow Lake.
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