Alberta pipeline safety study to be released this summer, says Energy Minister

Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes says he’ll release a report on the safety of Alberta’s pipelines this summer, while the legislature’s recessed and almost a year after the government commissioned the study.

“I’ve made a commitment to release the findings and recommendations of the pipeline safety review and will solicit public comment on it when released,” he said in a statement. “The report will be released this summer.”

Hughes did not offer a precise date.

The pipeline safety review was originally announced in the summer of 2012, following a major spill into the Red Deer River. Engineering firm G10, commissioned to write the report, completed it in December. Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board finished its analysis of the report in March. Both report and analysis have been on the Energy Minister’s desk ever since.

“The department is reviewing the report and analysis,” Hughes’ spokesperson Mike Feenstra wrote in an email.

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But the delay in their release has drawn accusations the minister is stalling, especially as the province waits for the U.S. State Department to make a decision on Trans Canada’s cross-continental Keystone XL pipeline.

“The fact that they’re not releasing that really leads me to be concerned about what it is we’re not hearing,” said Rachel Notley, environment critic for the Alberta NDP. “There’s no question that the delay is political.”

“Albertans are the ones with 80 per cent of Canada’s pipeline infrastructure running under their feet,” she said. “And it’s Albertans to whom this government owes a duty of care. And failure to release this report and to pursue more independent examinations into this issue is a breach of their responsibility to the Albertans who elected them.”

Read Global News’ investigation into thousands of oil spills in Alberta

Calls for the report’s release intensified last week after a massive pipeline spill near Zama City in northern Alberta – reported June 1 but not publicly announced for almost two weeks.

An estimated 9.5 million litres of oil extraction wastewater spilled from an Apache Canada pipeline – Alberta’s tenth largest produced water spill in nearly four decades. The five-year-old pipeline is supposed to have a 30-year lifespan, said Apache spokesman Marc Douglas.

Apache doesn’t know when the spill started; one of its inspectors found the spill June 1. The Energy Resources Conservation Board didn’t issue a press release until June 12, a day after it found out how big the spill was.

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The province has five people at the spill site – three from the environment ministry, said spokesperson Nikki Booth, and two from the Energy Resources Conservation Board.

While the board oversees operations, the environment ministry monitors the spill’s impact. Those two roles are merging beginning this month. The new regulator’s CEO has said it’ll have the same number of inspectors.

But the resources board’s budget has stagnated over the past several years, even as oilsands development and pipeline construction expand. Critics have questioned inspectors’ ability to keep up.

Wildrose MLA and energy critic Jason Hale said he’s waiting to see whether the new regulator lives up to expectations. He argues energy companies and members of the public need a clearer idea of what’s going on and what the rules are – so delays in the release of a report evaluating pipeline safety don’t bode well.

“I guess it comes to that transparency and accountability that we hear so often from the PC government. But we’ve been waiting months for these reports and nothing has come out,” Hale said. “The reports have been concluded and they’re obviously in his ministry, so, you know, we’re waiting patiently. Soon to be not-so-patiently.”

With a report from Anna Mehler Paperny