Plains Midstream blamed for pipeline break by Paul Cowley, March 4, 2014, Red Deer Advocate
Plains Midstream Canada has been blamed for numerous failures leading to a pipeline break under the Red Deer River near Sundre that released 462,000 litres of crude oil in June 2012. “Our investigation has shown that it was very clearly the company’s failure to do what they were supposed to do under the regulatory system in Alberta,” said Darin Barter, a spokesman for the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). [Why did the ERCB, now AER, fail to investigate Encana fracturing Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers in 2004 and instead “investigated” harmed citizens?] “Failure to do that caused, or certainly contributed to, oil getting into the Red Deer River — and that’s just not acceptable.”
The AER says the Calgary-based company did not inspect the pipeline annually or even follow its own pipeline integrity management program, says the report issued on Tuesday. Plains Midstream also failed to undertake appropriate measures to combat erosion it had detected under the pipeline or “apply appropriate mitigation measures according to its own hazard assessment,” says the report on the June 7 spill that saw riverbanks coated in a layer of stinking black light sour crude. The leak forced the closure of Gleniffer Lake to recreational users and led to a fishing ban.
The company knew, following inspections in 2008, that the pipeline route under the river was prone to wash-out erosion yet “Plains did not apply any additional measures to reduce the likelihood or consequence of failure.” The company also failed to limit the amount of crude oil that flowed out of the 12-inch (32-cm) pipeline by not responding properly to a provincial high stream flow advisory.
An investigation by pipeline experts determined that a “full guillotine failure” was detected at a pipeline weld at the west bank of the river. The problem was pinpointed to “high-cycle fatigue, likely caused by vibrations induced by river flow, and that the section of the pipeline that failed must have been exposed during the incident and was likely uncovered by scour.” Flow along that section of river is normally around 20 to 30 cubic metres per second. However, it hit 950 to 1,000 cubic metres per second on June 6 and was still running at 500 to 600 cubic metres per second on the day of the spill. Had the company followed recommendations made during a 2011 inspection and isolated, purged and cleaned the river section of line during high-flow periods, “the release may have been prevented entirely or, if not prevented, the volume of fluid released from the pipeline would have been significantly reduced.”
Four enforcement actions were issued against the company last July. They directed the company to update its emergency response plan and conduct an awareness program with residents in the emergency planning zone. Pipelines crossing water or unstable ground must be annually inspected and engineering inspections undertaken when risk of pipeline failure has been identified. The company must submit an action plan to the AER detailing what the company will do to prevent future regulatory non-compliance. “Should the company fail to complete any of the of the required actions, the AER will issue additional high-risk enforcement action and escalate existing enforcement consequences,” says the report.
The AER isn’t done with Plains. The company’s Alberta operations are being audited, with a report expected to come out later this year. “Ultimately, the outcome will determine whether the company can continue to operate in Alberta under the regulatory system,” said Barter. “At this point, we’re not convinced that’s the case.”
In April 2011, a Plains-owned pipeline spilled 4.5 million litres of light crude near a First Nations community about 100 km northeast of Peace River. In June 2013, another 150,000 litres of oil condensate was spilled northwest of Manning.
Ila Johnston and husband Wayne live within sight of the Sundre-area spill and word of the company’s multiple failings comes as no surprise to her. “Sounds typical,” she said on Tuesday. Nearly two years later, the Johnstons still have not settled their compensation claim with Plains. The company has failed to test about 50 acres of low-lying pasture next to the river land to ensure livestock can graze on it again. “We haven’t pastured it at all. We don’t know if it’s safe.” Johnston hopes reports like this one prompt some action from the industry, but she’s not holding her breath. “If they want to continue to put these big lines in they better do something. They’re putting us all in danger all the time because they are not looking after these lines properly.”
Plains has been ordered to undertake a number of other safety measures related to river crossings, such as installing more valves, isolating pipelines during high-river flow and addressing the long-term integrity of pipelines at river crossings by horizontally drilling underneath. The company must also assume worst-case scenarios and put into place appropriate procedures when it can’t determine how much cover is above a river pipeline. It also must become more involved with synergy groups, such as SPOG [SPOG is an industry group; Synergy Alberta is funded by industry to control concerned voices, and notably silence those harmed by oil and gas industry pollution]…. [Emphasis added]
Regulator report on Plains Midstream leak shows Alberta government monitoring failing: NDP by Canadian Press, March 5, 2014, Calgary Herald
Opposition politicians say a damning report into a major pipeline leak in a central Alberta river indicates the province’s monitoring system is failing. New Democrat Rachel Notley says the report into the 2012 Plains Midstream spill into the Red Deer River shows the company knew about problems with the pipeline for four years before it finally cracked. The Alberta Energy Regulator report says a consultant flagged that section of pipe as a high risk in 2008.
Notley says that fact Plains Midstream was able to keep the pipeline active without repairing it is evidence the government needs to stop relying on industry for safety monitoring. She suggests Plains Midstream should face heavy fines and criminal charges.
The pipeline released nearly a half-million litres of oil into the river. Hundreds of Albertans were affected, as were businesses that rely on the river. The river’s fishery, considered one of Alberta’s best, remains closed. [Emphasis added]
Plains Midstream criticized for pipeline leak into Red Deer River, Too few inspections, failed to heed warnings, poor contact with landowners says AER
by The Canadian Press, March 4, 2014, CBC News
The owner of a pipeline that leaked nearly half a million litres of oil into a central Alberta river has been heavily criticized by the province’s energy watchdog. The Alberta Energy Regulator has concluded that Plains Midstream didn’t inspect its Rangeland pipeline often enough, didn’t pay enough attention to government warnings, failed to enact adequate mitigation measures once the leak occurred and communicated poorly with hundreds of people affected by the spill in June 2012. “Plains failed to complete inspections of the pipeline at the required frequency according to its own pipeline integrity management program,” said the regulator’s report released Tuesday. “Plains failed to apply appropriate mitigation measures according to its own hazard assessment.”
The report comes as the regulator conducts an overall audit of Plains Midstream’s Alberta operations. The U.S.-based company also experienced a pipeline leak in 2011 of 4.5 million litres of oil near Peace River. “We need to be convinced that they can continue to operate safely in Alberta,” said regulator spokesman Darin Barter. “We are not convinced that can be done right now.”
Uncertain if charges will be laid
Alberta Environment spokeswoman Nikki Booth said it is too early to determine if charges will be laid. The 2012 spill was discovered June 7 when landowners just north of the community of Sundre began phoning in reports of smelling rotten eggs — the telltale odour of sour gas or sour oil. The spill was soon tracked to Jackson Creek, which flows into the Red Deer River. Heavy rains had recently swollen the flow in the river to 10 times the normal amount. The regulator concluded that the heavy flow eroded the riverbed around the pipe and exposed it. The pipeline then experienced a “guillotine failure” at a weld circling the pipe. “The pipeline failed due to high-cycle fatigue, likely caused by vibrations induced by river flow,” the report says.
Although the report concluded there were no structural problems with the 50-year-old line, the investigation found the frequency of the company’s inspections met neither provincial rules nor its own guidelines. Plains also failed to take advantage of warnings, the report says. “Had Plains responded to the government of Alberta’s high streamflow advisory issued prior to the incident, it could have isolated, cleaned and purged the pipeline section, leaving the pipeline in a safe condition.”
The immediate area around the spill is mostly ranchland. The larger area is considered pristine wilderness by many and is heavily used by campers, hunters and fishers. The community of Sundre is upriver from the spill, but the city of Red Deer is downstream, as is the Gleniffer Reservoir, a popular boating and recreation lake. Booms to catch oil were set up on Gleniffer. The marina and campground were closed and fishing shut down. Drinking water was trucked in for people in 750 recreation lots and permanent homes. More than 170 people were at one time cleaning up the 475,000-litre spill with lake-surface skimmers and absorbent pads along the creek. Wildlife deterrents were placed along the banks to keep animals away. Still, people reported oil pooling along the highly braided river margins and mixing with silt and sediments. Oil also collected in protected spots such as the Butcher Creek Natural Area.
Plains dealt poorly with landowners
The regulator criticized how Plains dealt with those affected by the spill. “Due to concerns regarding deficiencies in Plains’s communications with stakeholders … (Alberta Energy Regulator) communications staff had to direct Plains’s communications throughout the incident.”
AER releases investigation report on pipeline incident near Sundre [why not include in the headline that half a million litres of sour crude were spilled into the Red Deer River, drinking water supply for over one hundred thousand Albertans?]
News Release by the AER, March 4, 2014, (AERNR2014-03)
VIEW PDF (522.98 KB)
The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has released its investigation report that details Plains Midstream Canada’s (Plains) Rangeland pipeline failure that occurred on June 7, 2012, near Sundre, Alberta. The pipeline incident resulted in approximately 462 m3 of crude oil being released into the Red Deer River, and nearby residents were impacted.
The AER investigation concludes that the pipeline failure was caused by deficiencies in the company’s management of the pipeline and preincident administration procedures. The AER investigation describes the company’s failure to inspect the Rangeland pipeline annually, complete inspections on the pipeline at the required frequency according to its own pipeline integrity management program, apply appropriate mitigation measures according to its own assessment of scour (erosion of river bed under pipe), apply appropriate mitigation measures according to its own hazard assessment, and to respond to the Government of Alberta’s high stream flow advisories that were issued on (June 5th and 6th, 2012) and which would have mitigated the volume of crude oil released.
On July 4, 2013, the AER issued an order under section 22 of the Oil and Gas Conservation Act against Plains; the order includes a full regulatory audit of the company’s Alberta pipeline operations. The audit stems from the company’s failure to follow Alberta regulatory requirements over a prolonged period of time.
The AER has also issued four high risk enforcement actions against the company for its role in the Rangeland pipeline failure. The AER enforcement action directs the company to update its emergency response plan and to conduct a resident awareness program within the emergency planning zone of the Rangeland pipeline. Further, Plains is required to develop, implement, and electronically submit an action plan to the AER detailing what the company will do to prevent future regulatory noncompliance.
Should the company fail to complete any of the required actions, the AER will issue additional high risk enforcement actions and escalate existing enforcement consequences.
The AER provides regulatory oversight for more than 421 000 kilometres of pipeline within Alberta’s borders. If the AER identifies a pipeline operation that is, or is at risk of, causing unacceptable impacts, the regulator will pursue all available remedies to ensure that public safety is protected and environmental stewardship is upheld.
In 2013, the AER conducted nearly 1400 pipeline inspections and investigations. As a result, 217 high risk noncompliances were recorded, and 37 pipelines were suspended.
The Alberta Energy Regulator ensures the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of hydrocarbon resources over their entire life cycle. This includes allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment while providing economic benefits for all Albertans.
FOR BROADCAST USE
The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has released its investigation report into the June 7, 2012, Plains Midstream Canada Rangeland pipeline failure near Sundre that released about 3200 barrels of crude oil into the Red Deer River. The AER has found that the failure was caused by a combination of high river flow conditions and deficiencies in Plains’s preincident administration and management of the pipeline. In July 2013, the AER issued four high risk enforcement actions against the company for the spill and started an audit into the company’s operations in Alberta. The full report is available at www.aer.ca. [Emphasis added]
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