By EDWARD WELSCH
CALGARY, Albert-- Three large Canadian oil spills over the
last 30 days have increased concern over pipeline safety in the
country, just as the government and the Canadian petroleum
industry are trying to drum up support for a series of new
Enbridge said late Tuesday that one of its pipelines,
carrying heavy oil-sands crude oil, spilled some 1,450 bbl in
eastern Alberta earlier in the week.
Earlier this month, Plains All American Pipeline spilled up
to 3,000 bbl into a reservoir near the small resort town of
In addition, Pace Oil & Gas last month spilled some
5,000 bbl from a well in a remote corner of northwestern
More pipelines cross the oil-rich province of Alberta than
anywhere else in Canada, and the province's economy relies
heavily on oil and natural-gas production. That has all helped
to raise tolerance for minor spills among many residents.
But amid a spate of big spills this year and last year, environmental groups have stepped up
calls for more regulation.
That has coincided with a push by Canadian officials and the
industry to push a series of ambitious new projects - from a proposed Enbridge
pipeline that will take oil from Alberta to the Canadian west
coast to a series of plans aimed at reversing or expanding
pipeline flows, including a controversial proposed expansion of TransCanada Corp.'s
Keystone pipeline in Canada and the US.
The projects are being undertaken to redirect oil or natural
gas to account for new production areas, particularly in the
Canada's federal government is speeding up the review of big
energy-infrastructure projects, including for pipelines.
On Monday, the Conservative government of Prime Minister
Stephen Harper passed legislation that changes some
environmental laws to help streamline the process.
This week's oil spill in Alberta has become a lightning rod
for critics of those changes.
"It's ironic that the day that the House passed the budget
bill that significantly rolls back environmental laws there was
a major spill in Alberta," said Nathan Lemphers, senior policy analyst for Pembina
Institute, an environmental think tank, referring
to the Enbridge incident.
Mr. Lemphers and other critics said the government's ability
to monitor pipelines and enforce regulations hasn't kept up
with the growth of the industry.
The industry defends its record of pipeline safety. Canadian
Energy Pipeline Association spokesman Philippe Reicher said
there have been between zero and five spills a year of 50
bbl-plus of oil over the last 10 years.
In 2011, about 30,000 bbl were spilled out of 1.2 billion
bbl transported, with most coming from a large Plains All
American Pipeline spill.
"We have absolutely not seen an increased trend [in
spills]," Mr. Reicher said. "When you think of the amount we
transport compared to the amount that gets spilled, our reliability factor is 99.99%."
Alberta's provincial energy regulator, the Energy Resources
Conservation Board, said pipeline-safety regulations are
"We have a very strong safety record in this province," ERCB
spokesman Darin Barter said. "Yes, there have been three major
leaks in the past short while, but remember there are 400,000
kilometers (about 250,000 miles) of pipelines in this province,
and we are shipping millions of barrels a day through those
pipelines," he said.
Last year, Alberta suffered its largest pipeline spill in 36
years, when Plains' Rainbow pipeline spilled about 28,000 bbl
of oil into boreal forest near the town of Little Buffalo,
In the US, an Enbridge line spilled nearly 20,000 bbl into
Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010, triggering a political
firestorm in Washington.
Also last year, TransCanada's Keystone pipeline, which
connects Alberta to refineries in Illinois and a storage depot
in Cushing, Okla., also suffered 14 small leaks during its
first year of operation.
TransCanada recently reapplied for a US permit to expand
that line, after the White House rejected its original
proposal, in part, to allow more time to review the environmental impact.
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