Alberta oil and gas companies concerned new AER reporting could be misleading

Enerplus is a North American energy producer with a portfolio of oil and gas.
Enerplus is a North American energy producer with a portfolio of oil and gas.

Some oil and gas companies are raising concerns that information in a new reporting program launched by the Alberta Energy Regulator could be misleading.

The regulator launched the pipeline performance report web page Tuesday in an effort to make it easier for the public to see which oil and gas companies are falling behind on pipeline safety, and to push companies to improve.

But in laying out the data in simple charts and rankings, some companies fear the information will be misinterpreted.

“There’s information that can’t just be looked at from a snapshot,” said Walter Vrataric, CEO of Chinook Energy.

Chinook came in as having the worst rating of all operators last year with 52 incidents on a per 1,000-kilometre ratio, the common standard on reporting pipeline performance.

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Vrataric said the company had one minor gas leak last year, but because it only had 19 kilometres of pipeline at the end of the year after selling off a long stretch, that single incident turned into an alarming statistic when converted to the standard per 1,000-kilometre ratio.

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He said Chinook is completely supportive of increased transparency at the regulator, but that more effort needs to be done to make sure the data shows an accurate picture.

“As a public company punching from its back leg in a tough industry, where its seems like there’s more forces working against industry than with industry, this is not the kind of stuff that I think is transparency, I think it’s quite the opposite of that,” said Vrataric.

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Justin Robinson, a spokesman of Osum Production Corp., expressed similar concern about the information while supporting the overall push for transparency.

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“I think it is the right thing to do, it’s just that with smaller operators sometimes you need to pay attention to the context as well as the numbers,” said Robinson.

Osum ranked second in incidents per 1,000 kilometres at 37 per 1,000 kilometres, but Robinson said the company had a single leak of 100 litres of produced water on its 27 kilometres of pipeline last year — its first leak since it became an operator in 2014.

The report also showed that Enerplus Corp., ranked 25th in kilometres of pipeline under the AER, leaked the most liquid last year at 875,000 litres, while Apache Canada Ltd. was second with about 629,000 litres leaked on the fifth largest pipeline network.

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Enerplus could not be reached for comment, but Paul Wyke, spokesman for Apache Canada, said the company continues to work closely with the AER to meet its obligations and ensure pipeline integrity.

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David Helmer, director of pipelines at the AER, said at the launch of the program Tuesday that some companies had expressed concern the data could be misinterpreted, but others were very positive about it.

On the whole, pipeline incidents are on the decline in Alberta, with a 44 per cent drop in annual incidents over the past ten years and a three per cent drop between 2015 and 2016 to a total of 460 incidents last year.

Veronique Giry, vice president of industry operators at the regulator, said at the launch Tuesday that the trend is encouraging, but the regulator continues to push for greater performance.

“While we are encouraged by these results, there is more that we can do because all pipeline incidents are preventable,” Giry said.

“And one of the ways that we can help drive industry performance is by holding them more accountable to the public by reporting on their performance.”

The regulator has set a goal of reducing high-consequence incidents by two per cent in the fiscal year ending in March, and says its on track to reach that target.

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