The Alberta government announced a plan Friday for a wide-ranging review of pipeline safety in the province.

Speaking in Calgary, Energy Minister Ken Hughes said his department has asked the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) to hire an independent third party to do the safety audit.

It will focus on three areas of pipeline safety, Hughes said:

  • How pipeline integrity is managed.
  • How safety of pipelines crossing waterways is ensured.
  • And how responses to pipeline incidents are handled.

"The energy industry is the economic lifeblood of our province, and at the same time we want to ensure that Albertans have clean water, clean land and clean air. Today we are taking significant steps to ensure this will be the case for decades to come," Hughes said.

Reaction to announcement

Wildrose energy critic Jason Hale said the review is a good idea, but its announcement should have included a firm timeline and more details.

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The Alberta government is going to have a independent body conduct a review of pipeline safety in the province. (CBC)

Liberal environment critic Laurie Blakeman agrees the review announcement lacks details. The Liberals would also like to see an independent monitoring system for the oil and gas industry and stricter enforcement.

"We should not be putting industry in a conflict of interest position," she said in a release. 

"Their job is to produce oil and gas. We cannot expect industry to do the work of the government. We need an objective, knowledge-based, independent monitoring system for the industry."

Blakeman believes the current monitoring system in Alberta is ineffective.

"The fact is, Albertans expect polluters to pay," she said. "We need to ensure that an ongoing, effective monitoring system is implemented and fines are enforced to protect both industry and our environment."

3 major spills this year

There have been three pipeline leaks in Alberta this year, including the leak of up to 475,000 litres of oil into the Red Deer River, a major drinking water source in central Alberta.

Greenpeace says at least part of the site of another major pipeline spill in Alberta last year remains heavily contaminated despite company suggestions that the cleanup is complete.

The environmental organization released pictures of a pond near the Rainbow leak near the community of Little Buffalo taken in the spring of 2011, site of the second-largest spill in the province's history.

The pictures appear to show large globs of oil fouling vegetation and an oily sheen on the water.

Samples of oil and water smelled sharply of oil and burned rubber.

Pipeline owner Plains Midstream Canada says on its website that remediation on the site was completed last December.

In an email Friday, the company said that oil contamination has been removed from the site and that monitoring and testing continue in the area.

"While remediation of the site is complete, Plains continues to oversee reclamation activities on site as per its reclamation plan," the company stated.

The company sent operations staff on Friday to have another look at the site, "out of an abundance of caution," and plans to post photos on its Rainbow pipeline incident website

Alberta has almost 400,000 kilometres of provincially regulated pipelines. The number of pipeline incidents has dropped from 885 in 2007 to 641 in 2011, the government says.

With files from The Canadian Press