Alberta report commissioned by ERCB (now AER) reviewed pipeline rules, not leaks; Review finds “best in class” pipeline rules not strong enough to protect water

Alberta study reviews pipeline rules, not leaks by Graham Thomson, August 23, 2013, Edmonton Journal
You can’t judge a book by its cover — and you can’t judge a government-sponsored report by its title. The 900-page report released on Friday entitled Alberta Pipeline Safety Review is not a review of pipeline safety. It is a review of pipeline safety regulations. There is a big difference. The review of the regulations does not dig into the spate of pipeline leaks that have plagued Alberta the past few years and it doesn’t delve into whether the Alberta Energy Regulator is properly enforcing the regulations.

The pipeline safety review does not directly address any of the pipeline spills that prompted the government to call for the review. Those would include spills in 2012 such as the accidental dumping of 3,000 barrels of oil into the Red Deer River and the spillage of 5,000 barrels into Rainbow Lake. And let’s not forget the Plains Midstream pipeline spill of 28,000 barrels in northwestern Alberta in 2011 — the largest spill in the province in 30 years. That spill warranted its very own public inquiry, or maybe an inquiry into pipeline safety in general. … It would seem to be a classic case of bait and switch. … A year ago, the government announced it would ask the Energy Resources Conservation Board to review pipeline safety in the wake of those serious spills. The board (which is now called the Alberta Energy Regulator) in turn hired a Calgary engineering firm to conduct the study and write a report.

The review did find some troublesome issues such as the “safety of pipelines near water bodies appears to be an area without clear definition or consistent regulatory direction.” The government says it has accepted recommendations to improve the rules dealing with pipelines near water bodies. Or, in the words of the energy regulator’s official response, it will “review additional requirements and procedures for mitigating risk.”… Understandably and predictably, the opposition parties are calling the review a disappointment, if not a downright fraud.

Just as predictable was the government’s response. “This review assures Albertans we have a safe system in place,” said Hughes. Actually, no, it doesn’t assure us of that. [Emphasis added]

Pipeline safety review fails to answer key questions, critics say by Sarah O’Donnell and Dan Healing, August 23, 2013, Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald
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. 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.”

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. [Emphasis added[

Review finds Alberta pipeline rules not strong enough to protect rivers, creeks, Inconsistency an issue as lines cross water bodies, says safety report by Dan Healing, August 23, 2013 , Calgary Herald
Pipeline safety regulations in Alberta are among the best in Canada but are inadequate when oil-bearing lines get close to rivers and creeks, according to a long-awaited review of pipeline safety unveiled Friday. “Safety of pipelines near water bodies appears to be an area without clear definition or consistent regulatory direction, as licensees must conform to the requirements of multiple regulators,” says the 54-page report prepared by Calgary-based Group 10 Engineering Ltd. Energy Minister Ken Hughes asked the Energy Resources Conservation Board (now the Alberta Energy Regulator) to prepare the review last summer in the wake of three massive oil spills in Alberta and embarrassing spills elsewhere by Alberta companies.

One of the highest profile spills involved a 46-year-old Plains Midstream Canada pipeline that ruptured at Jackson Creek near Sundre in high water caused by rains and snow melt in June 2012 and leaked up to 475,000 litres of oil into the Red Deer River system. … [The review] added the Alberta regulator should require depth-of-cover measurements on a regular schedule on all critical and high-risk water crossings. The report compared the ERCB’s pipeline regulations with those used by Alberta Environment, British Columbia and Saskatchewan and the National Energy Board in Canada, plus the national U.S. regulator, Alaska and Texas state regulators and overseas jurisdictions of the U.K., Netherlands, France, Brazil and Australia. “Alberta (the ERCB) provides the most thorough overall regulatory regime of all the assessed Canadian jurisdictions,” it concluded. … The report was completed and turned over to Alberta Energy last December and refers throughout to the ERCB, although it is in the process of being amalgamated with Alberta Environment under the AER. Hughes has been roundly criticized for not releasing it. … The review notes that pipeline regulators around the world have been evolving to systems where industry self-monitoring is replacing some direct government oversight. The author recommends a hybrid system. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

New Report: Less than 1-percent of Tar Sands Environmental Infractions Penalized by Alberta’s “Best in the World,” “World-Class,” “No Duty of Care,” spying, lying and law violating ERCB (now AER)

Alberta oil pipeline spill has environmental and political impact “Contrasting the Red Deer oil spill, which fouled kilometres of shoreline and may threaten the drinking water for 100,000 people, to something similar happening on, say, the Skeena River is going to make many people very, very nervous.”

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Slides above from 2013 Ireland / UK Tour Slides – Fracking Community: Actions and Omissions Speak Louder than Words

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