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Pipeline safety review fails to answer key questions, critics say

Sarah O'Donnell & Dan Healing, Edmonton Journal & Calgary Herald, August 23, 2013

EDMONTON - A promised report into the safety of Alberta’s vast pipeline network prompted by a series of high profile spills fails to dig into some of the most serious concerns, critics said Friday.

Less than an hour after Alberta’s energy minister publicly released the report, which reviewed how the province’s pipeline regulations compare to about a dozen other jurisdictions, the NDP said they will ask Alberta’s auditor general to launch his own comprehensive review of pipeline safety.

“This report was supposed to be a report that would assure Albertans that our pipeline system is safe,” NDP MLA Rachel Notley said. “The report doesn’t do that. It doesn’t ask the right questions.”

Opposition parties, landowners, First Nations leaders, environmental groups and others pushed the government to investigate pipeline safety after a series of major leaks in 2012, including a 3,000-barrel spill on Plains Midstream Canada’s Range pipeline that contaminated the Red Deer River system, a 1,400-barrel spill near Elk Point on an Enbridge line and a 5,000-barrel spill on a Pace Oil & Gas near Rainbow Lake.

Those disasters came on the heels of the 28,000-barrel Rainbow pipeline spill northeast of Peace River in 2011.

Many expected the long-awaited safety audit, delivered to the energy department months ago, would examine the actual condition of Alberta’s 400,000 kilometres of pipelines and whether Alberta effectively enforces its rules, as opposed to looking at the state of its regulations.

The review by Group 10 Engineering compared Alberta’s pipeline regulations to rules in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Texas and Alaska. It also looked at national pipeline standards issued by Canada’s National Energy Board, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Brazil and Australia.

The $455,000 report concludes Alberta has the “most thorough overall regulatory regime” of the Canadian jurisdictions studied.

But the 900-page report did identify some gaps in Alberta’s regulations and included 17 recommendations on how the province and the Alberta Energy Regulator can beef up its rules. Government officials said they accepted all of the advice.

Energy Minister Ken Hughes said he looked at the report as one step toward improving pipeline safety, especially around bodies of water, at a time when Alberta’s environmental reputation is on the line every day.

“These recommendations help ensure we have a regulatory regime in place that is best in class,” Hughes said, adding later, “If pipeline companies do not comply, they will find Alberta to be a very difficult place in which to do business.”

The review found that Alberta companies often identify river crossings in pipeline applications with maps that are acceptable for a gas line but not detailed enough for oil.

It noted that an unidentified company reported 2,200 waterway crossings on a 1:1-million scale map — but identified 16,000 crossings when the scale was set at the review’s recommended 1:50,000.

The review said pipeline industry participants want more clarity in defining what a water body is, either in provincial regulations or the national Canadian Standards Association pipeline standard, which is followed in all Canadian jurisdictions.

In a written response to the report, the regulator said it will adopt the recommendation on mapping scale, adding it will also consult with stakeholders with regard to a recommendation to require regular depth-of-cover measurements on all critical and high-risk water crossings.

David Pryce, vice-president of operations at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, welcomed the report and said it should help build public confidence.

“It identified that by and large the regulatory system is strong,” he said. “It says there are some things we can learn and do from that — they focus on areas like standardizing the risk-based approach, ensuring there’s executive sign-off on the systems inside companies that is part of the compliance assurance program.”

Jennifer Grant, director of the Pembina Institute’s oilsands program, said though the report shows key gaps in Alberta’s regulatory regime need to be addressed quickly, it paints an incomplete picture.

“It’s a review of really, regulations on paper only, so it’s premature for the government to say Alberta is a leader in pipeline safety without really providing any analysis on the data of the rate of incidents, compliance, enforcement, what penalties are given, if any,” Grant said.

“We would certainly welcome an assessment of the real world performance and enforcement data that exists out there. Unfortunately, this report does fall short in that.”

Liberal MLA Kent Hehr said the Redford government “shortchanged” Albertans by asking for a review that looked very narrowly at existing regulations, rather than the state of the aging infrastructure.

“I was hoping we would have a comprehensive look at whether some of the pipes under the ground need to be replaced, need modern technology put in,” Hehr said. “Some of the pipes have been underground for 70 years.”

Wildrose MLA Jason Hale said the report failed to address the critical issue of whether Alberta is enforcing its existing rules. “The recommendations that are put forward in this report, they work on improvements to our pipeline industry, but we need to be able to prove as of right now our pipelines are in the best possible shape they can be in and I don’t think that report does this,” Hale said.

Notley said the NDP originally asked Alberta’s auditor general to investigate pipeline safety last year after similar reviews by the federal auditor general and Saskatchewan’s auditor general.

The auditor general decided not to pursue the issue after the Redford government launched the independent review through the energy regulator, Notley said, explaining she hopes he will reconsider now that the report is done.

Hughes said the public now has 45 days to comment on the report and its recommendations.

In writing its report, Group 10 Engineering consulted only with organizations directly involved in the industry. It did not seek input from community or environmental groups.

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema said he expects the coalition that originally pushed for the pipeline safety review last year will consider its next steps. But he urged the province to expand the 45-day public comment window.

“The government needed over eight months to look at this report because of the technical nature of it and is giving the public only 45 days to digest it and comment on it,” Hudema said. “If anything, the public needs longer to look at this report than the government does because it is so technical. They deserve time to go through the report and make comments on it.”

In Alberta, there are nearly 900 companies with a total of 400,000 kilometres of provincially regulated pipeline operations, according to the review. It pointed out B.C. has 39,000 kilometres and Saskatchewan just 23,000 kilometres, although the latter doesn’t regulate an estimated 68,000 “flow lines” that would be counted in B.C. and Alberta. About 90 companies operate 90 per cent of the Alberta system that grows by about 10,000 kilometres a year. About 20,000 kilometres of pipelines are dedicated to carry oil. In 1988, the benchmark for pipeline failures was five per 1,000 kilometres. In 2011, pipeline operators in Alberta had a rate of 1.5 per 1,000 kilometres. The ERCB reported 717 pipeline incidents in 2011 including; 523 leaks, 102 pressure test failures, 76 hits with no release and 16 ruptures.

sodonnell@edmontonjournal.com
Twitter.com/scodonnell

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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