Opposition parties have suggestions for pipeline safety review
By Markham Hislop
Alberta has announced a pipeline safety review of the province’s 400,000 kilometres of oil and gas pipelines, but opposition parties aren’t happy with the government’s plan.
Alberta’s Energy Minister Ken Hughes has requested that the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) retain an independent third party to examine elements of the pipeline system.
The ERCB, in conjunction with an independent third party to be contracted, will review three specific and integral areas of pipeline safety: how pipeline integrity is managed, how safety of pipelines crossing water ways is ensured, and how responses to pipeline incidents are handled.
Hughes says the Alberta government wants to ensure that Albertans have clean water, clean land and clean air.
“Today we are taking significant steps to ensure this will be the case for decades to come,” he said. “As leaders in energy production and regulation, our pipeline integrity standards must be among the best in the world. If changes are needed, Albertans can rest assured that we will make them.”
Several high profile pipeline spills in 2012, including 3,000 barrels of crude oil into the Red Deer River and a June spill of 1,400 barrels near Elk Point, have called into question the reliability of Alberta’s pipeline system. While Premier Alison Redford was quick to defend the system, a record fine levied against controversial Calgary-based pipeline operator Enbridge Inc. for a 2010 spill in Michigan has helped shake public confidence in pipeline safety.
The new pipeline safety review will run in conjunction with the current incident-specific investigations the ERCB is conducting. The pipeline safety review will be broader in scope, and will look at existing regulations and industry best practices from Alberta and around the world. At the conclusion of the review, a report will be submitted to Minister Hughes.
Alberta has almost 400,000 kilometres of provincially-regulated pipeline. The number of incidents has been steadily declining, from 885 in 2007 to 641 in 2011. All incidents, ranging from contact with a pipeline that does not cause a release to a spill, must be reported to the ERCB.
The Wildrose Party, Alberta’s official opposition party, says Hughes need to provide more details and attach a firm timeline on the pipeline review.
“We support this kind of pipeline review, but we need more information,” Jason Hale, Wildrose energy critic said. “Pipelines remain the safest, most secure way to move our product to market. It’s imperative that our network is reviewed. I look forward to working with the Energy Minister to make sure this review is effective, transparent and truly independent.”
Both Hale and Wildrose Environment Critic Joe Anglin say the review is necessary in order to demonstrate the safety and reliability of Alberta’s vital natural resource sector.
“Albertans must have confidence and the world must have confidence that we can manage our resources responsibly,” Anglin said. “We need to grow our energy sector, protect our environment and get our resources out to market while at the same time keeping Alberta communities safe.”
Liberal environment critic Laurie Blakeman is calling on the province to follow up the pipeline safety review with a completely independent monitoring system for industry.
“True to form, the government has yet again left out any details that will help us understand how this review will impact industry, or the environment,” said Blakeman.
She said the PC government of Alison Redford is reacting to considerable public concern surrounding the environmental impacts of the oil and gas industries in Alberta.
“Albertans understand the desire for continued oil and gas development but my concern is how do we mitigate the risk for the environment?” she asked.
Blakeman believes the current monitoring system in Alberta is completely ineffective.
“We should not be putting industry in a conflict of interest position. Their job is to produce oil and gas. We cannot expect industry to do the work of the government. We need an objective, knowledge-based, independent monitoring system for the industry. The fact is, Albertans expect polluters to pay. We need to ensure that an ongoing, effective monitoring system is implemented and fines are enforced to protect both industry and our environment,” she said.
Greenpeace says the ERCB is part of the pipeline problem and should not be leading the investigation. Spokesperson Mike Hudema is demanding a completely independent review process that looks at all aspects of Alberta’s pipeline system.
“The review should be done either by the Alberta Auditor General, as was just recently done in Saskatchewan, or by a completely independent panel of respected scientists and other voices to ensure the panel’s credibility,” he said.
The environmental group is also calling for the scope of the review to be widened to include government oversight, regulation, enforcement, spill clean-up as well as the safety of Alberta’s aging pipeline infrastructure.
NDP MLA David Eggen says the Alberta Auditor General should review integrity and safety of the province’s pipelines.
“Why is this Minister avoiding what’s right in front of his face? Audits like this are what we have an Auditor General for. The Saskatchewan Auditor General did an excellent job with her report on pipeline safety in Saskatchewan earlier this month,” Eggen said. “So why wouldn’t the Minister use the independent officer available to him, instead of this industry lap-dog?”