MRO Magazine

Alberta regulator called on to review oil pipeline monitoring, maintenance, safety


November 28, 2011
By PEM Magazine

EDMONTON — An environmental think-tank says recent spills in Alberta show it’s time for regulators to review how aging oil pipelines are monitored and maintained.

Nathan Lemphers of the Pembina Institute says there’s a greater chance of more spills because more oil is flowing through older lines.

“Given the number of major pipeline spills that happened this past spring, and now this Penn West pipeline spill, there is a need for the Energy Resources Conservation Board to reassess how it manages aging infrastructure,” Lemphers said Friday.

“The ERCB needs to ensure that there is improved monitoring and maintenance of these aging pipelines and that they enforce existing pipeline safety regulations.”


The board estimates there are about 400,000 kilometres of energy-related pipelines criss-crossing Alberta.

Last month, a Penn West pipeline leaked 500,000 litres of watery oil near Swan Hills. The emulsion came from a pipeline connected to old oil wells.

The Calgary-based company has so far removed five million litres of water that was contaminated by the spill and 2,300 tonnes of soil. The ERCB said Friday that the site remains shut down and will not reopen until an investigation into what happened is complete.

Last April, Plains Midstream Canada reported a major breach of its 44-year-old Rainbow pipeline north of Peace River. About 4.5 million litres of oil escaped.

Kinder Morgan also reported a spill that month from its pipeline carrying diluted unprocessed oilsands crude near Chip Lake west of Edmonton.

The Pembina Pipeline Corp. reported a spill on its line near Swan Hills in July.

Cleanup and remediation of the Plains Midstream spill continues.

The conservation board is responsible for regulating pipelines that begin and end in Alberta. Pipelines that cross provincial boundaries or the U.S. border are regulated by the federal National Energy Board.

The Alberta regulator said pipelines in the province have never been safer. The latest (2010) statistics show 1.6 incidents per thousand kilometres of pipeline.

“Alberta’s pipeline system is very safe,” said board spokesman Darin Barter.

“The ERCB expects companies to operate pipelines safely and within all regulatory requirements regardless of age.”

The Pembina Institute said the breaches this year show the status quo isn’t good enough.

“This recent spill highlights the environmental risks of pipelines in Alberta,” Lemphers said. “More can and should be done to ensure this kind of spill does not happen again.”