Alberta pipeline review to assure Canadians, minister says

Alberta's energy minister Ken Hughes says that the pipeline safety review he announced today isn't specifically meant to reassure critics of the Northern Gateway pipeline, but if it does, that's an added bonus.

Review follows recent pipeline spills

Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes, shown at his swearing-in ceremony in May, announced a pipeline safety review on Friday. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

A review of pipeline regulations ordered today by the Alberta government is not specifically meant to reassure critics of the Northern Gateway pipeline but if it does, all the better, according to the province's energy minister.

Energy Minister Ken Hughes announced that the Energy Resources Conservation Board will contract an outside company to look into pipeline operations and safety measures after a series of damaging oil spills in recent months.

"If the message with respect to a top-performing pipeline system in the province of Alberta helps assure other Canadians that pipelines elsewhere in Canada also will be performing at a very high level — which they already are, we just want to be assured of that — then that's a good thing," Hughes told CBC News.

The Alberta government caved to pressure from the opposition and environmental, community and landowner groups who have been calling for a review for weeks.

May and June were particularly messy months for pipeline spills. Enbridge leaked 230,000 litres from a pumping station in northern Alberta. Another 800,000 litres soaked into the muskeg from a Pace Oil and Gas operation near the Northwest Territories border. 

There was also the Plains Midstream breach that dumped 480,000 litres into the Red Deer River, the drinking water source for Alberta's third-largest city.

The group that eventually conducts the review will study pipeline integrity, water crossings and spill response plans. 

"I want to be in a position to be able to assure Albertans and all Canadians that we are able to have pipelines function in a way that people expect them to, and that's where we're moving," said Hughes.

Earlier in the day, Hughes told a news conference that "if improvements are required, I will make sure they happen."

"I will also make this report public," he said. 

The announcement of a review comes just a day after Alberta Premier Alison Redford had a meeting in Edmonton with British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. The main topic of their conversation was Enbridge's Northern Gateway project, a proposed pipeline that would stretch from just outside of Edmonton to Kitimat on the B.C. coast.

Redford has been frustrated by Clark's unwillingness to commit one way or another on the contentious project. 

Hughes likened the dispute to a family tiff. "There are, from time to time, challenges in any family relationship. In this case, though, we think that it is quite clear that there are benefits not just to British Columbia but to all of Canada," he said.

But the NDP in British Columbia isn't buying that argument.

"It will have no impact on the opposition's view of the Enbridge proposal nor, I think, will it have any impact on the views of most British Columbians who are resoundingly opposed to the Northern Gateway project," John Horgan, the NDP's energy critic, told the CBC. 

A spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Environment said the government will be addressing the pipeline issue more in the coming days.