The mayor of Fox Creek has asked the Alberta Energy Regulator to ensure energy companies test pipelines more frequently in light of the Nexen leak, and because of concerns in his region over aging infrastructure, fracking earthquakes and potential ruptures.
"We're fairly confident the testing the oil companies do is probably good enough, but probably good enough just isn't good enough for me," said Jim Ahn.
- Nexen pipeline spill cause could take months to determine
- 4.4-magnitude earthquake recorded near Fox Creek
Ahn says the companies currently test the lines once every five years or so, but he wants to see that practice stepped up to at least once or twice per year.
As a resource-driven town, people are very understanding of the industry and they're confident in the oil companies, he says. But a small number of people are scared, and they have to be reassured.
Ahn points to the network of sour gas (H2S) and sour oil lines throughout Alberta, some of which are decades old.
"I think we need to know on an annual basis, or more often, that the pipeline integrity is good and we're not going to have a huge gas release in this area," he said.
"We've asked the Alberta Energy Regulator to talk to the oil companies to 'smart pig' the lines more often — a process to check weaknesses and leaks — so they know the integrity of the pipelines."
Sour gas concerns
There are miles of aging pipelines near the community, and a 40-year-old sour gas pipeline that runs through the town.
"That would be the biggest concern, that one of the pipelines would rupture and release sour gas — a very deadly gas," Ahn said.
"If anyone were in the area and the pipeline broke, we would have fatalities," he added.
There have been no problems with the pipelines related to fracking or quakes, according to the mayor. But there have been some releases of H2S, which smells like rotten eggs.
"There was a scare, and there were people pulling kids out of school just in case," he said.
AER investigating earthquakes
The mayor raised the issue of more frequent testing with the AER following earthquakes in the region believed to be related to hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a process that involves using high pressure to release natural gas and oil from rock formations below ground.
"There is a huge cost associated to smart pigging, but if we want to be assured that there won't be any leaks from a failure of a pipeline, I think smart pigging is the best way to do it," said Ahn.
The AER is investigating two earthquakes measuring between 3.8 and 4.4 on the richter scale about 20 kilometres outside Fox Creek. The most recent quake occurred in June.
In at least one case, the AER says the quake was likely caused by hydraulic fracturing.
Fox Creek is roughly 260 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.