Critics say more oversight needed

Critics say more oversight needed by Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal, June 30, 2012
Oil and gas inspectors are getting better at catching companies breaking the rules, which explains the increased number of “high-risk” violations reported in its latest annual report, Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board says. Though inspectors for the agency that regulates the oil and industry did 500 fewer inspections in 2011, they found more high-risk violations, a sign that they hit the right targets, ERCB spokesman Bob Curran said Friday. … The “high-risk” violations included a wide range of problems – improperly venting sour gas (with possible serious health implications), improper waste disposal and drilling too many wells on a site.

A breakdown of the 438 violations reported in 2011 shows about onethird – 155 – involved pipelines, 100 involved problems at well sites, 63 were at oil facilities and 51 were at gas facilities. Problems at oil rigs and drilling waste made up the rest of the issues. The ERCB chose to target companies with poor records of violations, facilities on sensitive locations and those with inherent risks such as sour gas wells, Curran said.

New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley disputed the ERCB notion that fewer inspections provides adequate oversight, especially given the increase in oil and gas activity, from coal bed methane to fracking. The number of inspectors has increased from 85 in 2008 to 90 today, and the ERCB has not shown that is an adequate number, she said. The number of inspections was also down the year before, Notley added. “With only five more inspectors, the number hasn’t kept up with the increasing rate of activity,” she said. “The same people are being asked to do more work.” Energy department spokesman Michael Deising said the ministry will look at hiring more inspectors if the ERCB makes that request. [Emphasis added]

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