Pipeline monitoring should be independent: NDP MLA

By Gemma Karstens-Smith, edmontonjournal.com May 31, 2012

EDMONTON — An NDP MLA is calling on the provincial government to strengthen monitoring for the oil and gas industry after a spill that saw 22,000 barrels of oil and water leak from an above-ground pipe in northwestern Alberta earlier this month.

“We do have an aging pipeline infrastructure in this province, so this is going to happen more and more if we don’t start enforcing proper maintenance and safety standards,” said Rachel Notley, MLA for Edmonton Strathcona.

The spill, about 20 kilometres southeast of Rainbow Lake, came from a water injection site operated by Calgary-based company Pace Oil and Gas. It was discovered on May 19 by another company doing a routine flyby in the area.

The company is looking into how the leak occurred, including checking whether the pipes had been replaced since the area was converted to a water injection site in 1977, said Pace President and CEO Fred Woods. The Energy Resources Conservation Board is also investigating the spill.

Crews continue to clean up the 3,500 cubic metres of oil and water emulsion — enough to fill 1.4 Olympic pools — covering 10.6 acres of muskeg. It’s unclear how long the cleanup will take, Woods said.

“We’ll take as long as it takes to get it right,” Woods said.

Notley wants to see the government dedicate resources to independent monitoring of pipelines to prevent future spills.

But it’s companies — not the province — who are responsible for pipeline monitoring, said Bob Curran, a spokesman with the Energy Resources Conservation Board.

“We have requirements in place for that but we don’t actually do the monitoring ourselves,” Curran said.

Having companies do their own monitoring is part of the problem, Notley said.

“It’s a classic case of the fox watching the hen house,” she said. “I mean, there’s a conflict of interest.”

And that conflict effects the industry’s legitimacy, Notley said.

“If we cannot point to a rigorous, functional, independent environmental protection scheme in this province, then we are not ever going to win the argument that our oil and gas industry is safe and sustainable and doesn’t jeopardize the environment,” she said.

ERCB reviews the regulations for pipeline monitoring on an “ongoing basis,” Curran said, adding there no current plans to modify the requirements.

“It’s an ongoing process we do to ensure regulations are adequate,” he said. “And if changes were needed, we would make them.”

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