Green party knocks leaky Alberta pipeline owner's record

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says the owner of a pipeline that leaked a massive amount of oil in northern Alberta has a dismal safety record in the United States.

The federal Green party says the owner of a pipeline that leaked a massive amount of oil in northern Alberta has a dismal safety record in the United States.

Green Leader Elizabeth May says Plains All American, parent company of Plains Midstream Canada, was fined $3.25 million last year for 10 separate crude spills in the U.S.

May says the Houston-based corporation was also required to spend $41 million on pipeline upgrades in a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Plains All American has an atrocious record, and is responsible for releasing crude oil into bodies of water in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and in the Gulf of Mexico," May said Monday.

"I think it is astonishing that there wasn't more oversight over Plains Midstream. I'm just shocked that they hadn't been red-flagged in Canada for more vigilance for their operations in Alberta."

The Rainbow pipeline owned by Plains Midstream spilled 4.5 million litres of crude on April 29, prompting a nearby aboriginal community to close its school as residents complained of headaches from the smell of petroleum.

Roy Lamoreaux, a Plains spokesman, said the nature of the pipeline problems experienced by the company and its U.S. parent are completely different and shouldn't be compared.

"Clearly they are unrelated," he said from Calgary, adding the breach in the Alberta pipeline was not caused by corrosion but by a bend in the line that shouldn't have happened.

"This particular incident is related to improper backfill on an excavation in 2010. It is not related to corrosion or stress corrosion cracking. I do not see any connection."

Lamoreaux said as of Monday, 300 workers on the site have cleaned up about 30 per cent of the spill and have completed repairs on the line. Company officials also met with leaders of the Lubicon First Nation to bring them up to date.

He said the company is now waiting for word from Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board on when they can resume shipping crude through the line.

"The company has indicated that we feel comfortable that the line can be brought into service safely and the ERCB is doing their investigation to confirm the same," he said.

Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak said band leaders met with company vice-president Stephen Bart Monday afternoon. The First Nation said it wants another meeting with the company, energy regulators and the Alberta government before the crude is allow to flow again.

Ominayak said band members are pleased with the effort being put out into the cleanup, but they have other concerns. The chief said people are worried about the possibility of mores leaks in the line that runs through land the Alberta government earmarked in 1988 for a proposed Lubicon reserve.

He said they want to be reassured their land claim area south of the current spill site won't be soiled by a future spill before the line is reopened.

"I think this is going to continue for some time," Ominayak said. "I think there is a lot of pressure from the people who are utilizing this line, but the fact remains that if this happened here, the question is, is it going to happen somewhere else?"

The Alberta government is under growing pressure to allow the pipeline to resume operating. The pipeline normally ships up to 220,000 barrels of crude of day. Suppliers up the line are curtailing production and putting oil into storage.

Alberta Environment Minister Ron Renner shrugged off concerns about the safety record of Plains' U.S. parent company.

Renner said the province has its own safety rules and regulators won't allow the pipeline to resume shipments until it is safe to do so.

"We don't spend a great deal of time concerning ourselves with other jurisdictions' regulations," Renner said.

"Our focus is on whether or not companies are following Alberta's regulations, and that's the responsibility of the Energy Resources Conservation Board. And I fully expect they will do appropriate due diligence."

But Alberta Liberal environment critic Laurie Blakeman said the government can't afford to be short-sighted.

"If a company has behaved badly somewhere else, it's quite likely they'll behave badly in Alberta, especially given the lack of government regulation that we have here," she said.