By CHESTER DAWSON
CALGARY -- The top energy official in Alberta's government
said pipeline companies need to be prodded to invest more in
new technologies aimed at preventing pipeline leaks and
improving response times when spills occur.
"Our job is to make sure industry actually steps up to being
early adopters of sensible, reliable technology," Alberta Energy Minister
Ken Hughes said in an interview. "We're mobilizing the industry
to a higher level of performance."
The minister's comments come amid increased scrutiny over
pipeline integrity following a series of high-profile oil pipe
leaks in recent years and persistent questions about risks from
proposed pipeline projects designed to carry even more
heavy crude from Alberta's booming oil sands, such as
TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL project.
In a letter dated Aug. 27, a copy of which was obtained by
The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Hughes asked the Alberta
Energy Regulator, the province's chief regulatory authority, to
ensure "operators are using leading edge information and
technologies to increase the prevention of pipeline incidents"
and improve accident response efforts.
While stating that Alberta has been an effective regulator
in the past, Mr. Hughes wrote "there is more that can be done
to prevent pipeline incidents and increase transparency around
the way pipelines are regulated."
That came five days after the release of a long-awaited
provincial government report on pipeline safety that focused on
ways to improve Alberta's regulatory structure. It was panned
by opposition party critics and environmental groups for not
analyzing the actual state of pipelines or industry compliance
In the letter, the minister didn't identify any specific
technologies for broader adoption, but he said they should
encompass areas such as incident tracking, component
traceability, and integration of pipeline-management
and geographic-information systems.
A spokesman for the industry-funded Alberta Energy Regulator
had no immediate comment on the letter from Mr. Hughes, but he
said pipeline integrity regulations were constantly under
review. "We take a long-term approach as the industry's
capabilities and the technologies continue to evolve," said AER
spokesman Bob Curran.
Pipeline operators and oil producers rely on a variety of
monitoring practices, including using sensors mounted on robots
known as "smart pigs" that run inside of pipes. In the US,
these smart pigs -- so called for the squealing sound they make
when traveling inside a pipe -- accounted for 93% of
inspections on hazardous-liquids pipe in 2012, according to
federal data, but they have failed to detect some major leaks.
Other methods survey the landscape above buried pipelines using
airborne or satellite-based imagery.
Critics say the industry has been slow to adopt cutting-edge
monitoring technologies despite a surge in pipeline construction. But the Canadian
Energy Pipeline Association says those concerns are overblown,
noting its members had a 99.9% safety record between 2002 and
2011. CEPA's members include Calgary-based pipeline operators
Enbridge and TransCanada.
Although the province doesn't provide financial incentives
to improve pipeline monitoring, Mr. Hughes said the government
is working to foster programs designed to enhance safety, such
as a proposed pipeline-worker training facility in northeastern
"That's an idea whose time has probably come," he
Dow Jones Newswires