EDMONTON – Calls for an independent review into pipeline safety in Alberta are growing, with some saying it’s even more urgent now that a U.S. investigation has sharply criticized a Calgary company’s efforts to clean up a major oil spill.
“If we don’t have tough regulations in place making sure that our pipelines are very safe, then people are not going to accept pipelines coming through their territories,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta.
The left-leaning advocacy group is one of 54 signatories to a letter to be released today that calls on Premier Alison Redford to formally look into pipeline safety.
That number more than triples the 17 names attached to a similar call made in late June.
Environmentalists make up the largest number of names. There are local organizations such as the Davey Lake Group to global giants such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.
Landowners rights groups from across Alberta come next.
Public sector unions including the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and the United Nurses of Alberta are on board. So are First Nations and public health groups.
“The time for leadership on pipeline safety is now, and the first step must be an independent pipeline safety review,” says the open letter to Redford.
Earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board in the U.S. compared the efforts of energy company Enbridge Inc. to clean up a massive spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River to silent-movie slapstick characters the Keystone Kops. The board said the company reacted too slowly and entirely mishandled the pipeline break.
With major projects under discussion to take oilsands bitumen both into the United States and through British Columbia to the West Coast, Moore-Kilgannon said Alberta can’t afford that kind of black eye.
“That’s not a good image for Alberta and Alberta-based companies,” he said. “It’s in all of our interests that we do a review, that the premier commit to that now.”
There have been three pipeline spills in Alberta in recent weeks.
In late May, 3.5 million litres of oil and salt water leaked into muskeg near the northern community of Rainbow Lake. On June 7, up to 475,000 litres of oil leaked from a pipeline into the Red Deer River near Sundre, the source of drinking water for many central Alberta communities. Also in June, a leaky gasket at a pumping station released 230,000 litres of oil near Elk Lake in northeastern Alberta.
Redford has said she doesn’t’t want to decide on a pipeline review until the Energy Resources and Conservation Board completes its own investigations.
But they average nine months in length and that’s not fast enough, said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace.
“Based on our spill average, that means we can expect 484 spills before the premier decides whether to actually initiate the review. That’s simply not acceptable.”
Farrah Khan of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment agreed.
“We would like to see an independent review done much quicker than that. If we’re not able to find answers soon about why we’re having these spills that are impacting drinking water and wildlife – and human health, at the end of the day – I think we need to make sure the province sees it as a real priority.”
The energy board points out millions of litres of oil are piped safely every day. It cites statistics showing that leaks are at all-time lows of 1.6 incidents per kilometre of pipe.
Some say that figure hides as much as it reveals and downplays the more than 600 leaks a year in Alberta. It doesn’t include leaks from pipeline-related facilities such as pumping stations and does include many kilometres of lines that are no longer used.
The board doesn’t release all leak locations or the contents of those leaks.
Critics also wonder about the cumulative impacts. Industry figures show pipelines have released at least 3.4 million litres of hydrocarbons into the environment every year since 2005.
Others point out much of Alberta’s more than 400,000 kilometres of pipe is now 40 and 50 years old. As well, the sweet crude and natural gas the lines were designed to carry are shifting to heavier and harsher substances such as dilbit, an acidic and abrasive blend of fluids and oilsands bitumen.