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Independent third party to scrutinize Alberta’s pipeline safety protocols

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal, July 20, 2012

EDMONTON - Government and industry bowed to public pressure Friday, announcing a review of Alberta’s pipeline safety rules and $500 million in new spill-prevention features for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Energy Minister Ken Hughes asked the province’s energy regulator to hire an outside organization to review three key aspects of pipeline safety in Alberta: spill response plans, safety at pipeline water crossings, and pipeline integrity management.

Left Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen and Alberta Premier Alison Redford at the Dickson Dam leave after talking about a oil spill from a pipeline leak at a press conference near the Gleniffer Reservior in the background on Friday June 08, 2012 in Dickson Alberta about 50 km.west of Red Deer. (Photograph by: Dean Bicknell, Calgary Herald)

At the same time, energy giant Enbridge said the company will invest $500 million in added safety measures for the controversial pipeline, including thicker pipeline walls at water crossings, more inspections, and round-the-clock staffing in remote locations.

Hughes acknowledged Friday the provincial pipeline industry has come under unprecedented scrutiny after three spills in Alberta and a damning report from a U.S. government watchdog that excoriated Enbridge for its role in a Michigan spill.

He said Alberta must become a world leader in pipeline safety standards, so the province and energy companies that do business here can retain the social licence to operate.

“Let me be clear: If improvements are required, I will make sure that they happen. I will also make this report public,” Hughes said Friday, adding he expects the report to be completed in months, not years. “Let me also be clear that I will hold industry accountable.”

Hughes said the review could lead to improved regulatory oversight, better enforcement and higher penalties for companies that violate provincial rules.
He did not say which independent consultant would conduct the review, and was unable to provide details about deadlines or the scope of the review. A spokeswoman later said the province will release the terms of reference for the review after they are finalized.

Enbridge vice-president Janet Holder said the improvements to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from Edmonton to Kitimat, B.C., would “make what is already a very safe project even safer.

“We recognize that there are concerns among aboriginal groups and the public around pipeline safety and integrity,” Holder said in a statement.

“We have often been asked if we could guarantee that we would never have a significant pipeline failure over the years on Northern Gateway. These initiatives will put the project closer than any pipeline system in the world to providing that guarantee.”

Critics generally supported the review but unanimously called on the government to release more details. They also worried the involvement of the ERCB would undermine the independence of the review.

“The devil is in the details,” Wildrose environment critic Joe Anglin said. “The terms of reference are extremely important, and we don’t have those yet, and the independence is absolutely paramount.

“We are supportive that this is the right way to go, but we really do need much more detail from this government.”

Pembina Institute spokeswoman Jennifer Grant said the report should include an assessment of inspection and compliance rates, a tally of cleanup costs and a look at how long it takes companies to detect leaks.

She said government needs to ask whether the ERCB has the capacity to keep pace with surging development in Alberta, and whether aging infrastructure is contributing to spills.

“Attention to pipelines is warranted, but it’s not going to address the many other issues associated with that project,” Grant said. “There is still the risk associated with tanker traffic, the risks to salmon and their habitat.”

Liberal environment critic Laurie Blakeman said the province should establish 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,” Blakeman said in a statement. “Albertans understand the desire for continued oil and gas development but my concern is how do we mitigate the risk for the environment?”

Greenpeace Canada campaigner Mike Hudema said the review falls short of being truly independent because it is still being overseen by the ERCB.

“Asking the ERCB to do a pipeline review is like asking your child to review the state of cleanliness of his own room,” Hudema said. “The ERCB is part of the pipeline problem in this province.”

NDP MLA David Eggen renewed his call for an independent review of by Alberta’s Auditor General.

“We don’t have any substance of what Mr. Hughes is talking about, like who, what, when, where and why,” Eggen said.

The announcements come after weeks of mounting pressure from opposition parties and a coalition of more than 50 environmental, community and landowner groups who say Alberta’s safety rules need to be reviewed.

The calls began after Albertans witnessed three major pipeline spills in less than a month, and the government reported an 83 per cent jump in the number of high-risk violations at energy sites.

The pressure increased when the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board released a damning report that blamed Enbridge for “pervasive organizational failures” that led to a massive pipeline spill in Michigan two years ago. The U.S. watchdog also said allowing pipeline companies to monitor their own compliance “is tantamount to the fox guarding the henhouse.”

After that report was released, the number of organizations calling for an independent review of pipeline safety tripled to 54.

With files from Keith Gerein

kkleiss@edmontonjournal.com

twitter.com/ablegreporter

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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