Industry advised government prior to pipeline review

Industry advised government prior to pipeline review by Drew A. Penner, December 18, 2012, Mountainview Gazette
Alberta’s Energy Minister Ken Hughes is talking tough after Greenpeace revealed he met with industry leaders as the government began to decide on parameters for a review of the province’s 400,000 kilometres of pipeline. A series of emails uncovered by the environmental organization through a freedom of information request show the government held an “informal conversation” with pipeline CEOs July 16 prior to ordering an evaluation. The communication also shows industry officials advised the government to get the Energy Resources Conservation Board to handle an inquiry. “The reason I called the industry together in the summer was to convey to them a sense of urgency and a sense of deep commitment on behalf of the province of Alberta,” Hughes told the Gazette. “I made it absolutely clear to the pipeline industry that if there’s a spill by any player in this province, any pipeline operator, that they’re responsible.” On June 20, the government announced the ERCB would be getting a third-party company to complete a review of pipeline safety and management, water crossings, and spill response – a contract ultimately won by Calgary-based Group 10 Engineering. But Keith Stewart, the Greenpeace energy campaigner who published the documents, says the urgency from the government had more to do with remedying a damaged public image of the province’s energy in the wake of high-profile oil spills such as the June 7, 2012 Plains Midstream Canada spill that flowed upwards of 500,000 litres of light crude oil into the Red Deer River system. “The government was clearly responding to public pressure and public concern,” said Stewart, noting the emails correspondence took place right after the U.S. pipeline regulator released a report that was highly critical of Enbridge’s response to a July 25, 2010 spill near Marshall, Mich., which released more than three million litres of oil in and around the Kalamazoo River. “Here you’ve had three major spills in the space of a month, you’ve had a damning report from the U.S. pipeline regulatory agency of Enbridge’s Edmonton-based control room’s response to the spill in Michigan,” he said, “and yet you have the minister writing to the pipeline CEOs saying, ‘As you know, the industry operates under world-leading regulatory regime, and has a strong and improving safety record. Some recent incidents and ongoing media attention about energy and environmental issues have given us all the opportunity to reflect not just on how we ensure safety, but also on how we communicate our safety commitment’. “I read that as the minister saying to the CEOs, ‘Look, we have public relations problem here and we need to do some damage control’.”

Greenpeace says the wording used to initiate the pipeline review won’t allow the contractor to uncover any real pipeline safety issues on the ground, contending the scope is too focused on standards as written on paper. The request for proposal states the purpose of the assessment is “to determine if the regulatory requirements and best practices remain relevant and accurately reflect the risk profile of ERCB-regulated pipelines and to identify areas for improvement,” and to compare the province to other jurisdictions. [Emphasis added]

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