EDMONTON - Calls for an independent review into pipeline safety in Alberta are growing, with some saying it's even more urgent now that a U.S. investigation has sharply criticized a Calgary company's efforts to clean up a major oil spill.
"If we don't have tough regulations in place making sure that our pipelines are very safe, then people are not going to accept pipelines coming through their territories," said Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta.
The left-leaning advocacy group is one of 54 signatories to a letter to be released today that calls on Premier Alison Redford to formally look into pipeline safety.
That number more than triples the 17 names attached to a similar call made in late June.
Environmentalists make up the largest number of names. There are local organizations such as the Davey Lake Group to global giants such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund.
Landowners rights groups from across Alberta come next.
Public sector unions including the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and the United Nurses of Alberta are on board. So are First Nations and public health groups.
"The time for leadership on pipeline safety is now, and the first step must be an independent pipeline safety review," says the open letter to Redford.
Earlier this week, the National Transportation Safety Board in the U.S. compared the efforts of energy company Enbridge Inc. to clean up a massive spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River to silent-movie slapstick characters the Keystone Kops. The board said the company reacted too slowly and entirely mishandled the pipeline break.
With major projects under discussion to take oilsands bitumen both into the United States and through British Columbia to the West Coast, Moore-Kilgannon said Alberta can't afford that kind of black eye.
"That's not a good image for Alberta and Alberta-based companies," he said. "It's in all of our interests that we do a review, that the premier commit to that now."
There have been three pipeline-related spills in Alberta in recent weeks.
In late May, 3.5 million litres of oil and salt water leaked into muskeg near the northern community of Rainbow Lake. On June 7, up to 475,000 litres of oil leaked from a pipeline into the Red Deer River near Sundre, the source of drinking water for many central Alberta communities. Also in June, a leaky gasket at a pumping station released 230,000 litres of oil near Elk Lake in northeastern Alberta.
Redford has said she doesn't want to decide on a pipeline review until the Energy Resources and Conservation Board completes its own investigations.
Environment Minister Diana McQueen said Thursday that the Alberta government will wait specifically for a report into the Plains Midstream Canada pipeline breach that fouled part of the Red Deer River before deciding if a broad review is necessary.
"Premier has asked myself and the minister of energy to do the review of the Plains Midstream pipeline leak and from there, when the regulator has gone through that process, we will take a look at that one and see ... is there more that we can do," she said.
McQueen said Alberta is concerned that Enbridge's Kalamazoo spill may undermine public support for the proposed Northern Gateway project that would pipe oilsands crude from the province to the B.C. coast.
She said Northern Gateway is going through what she called a strong regulatory review process. But McQueen said that Enbridge should be doing all it can to reassure the public that the pipeline would be safe.
"This is an important project for Alberta and the nation," she said. "I think Enbridge has to talk about this particular project that they are working towards and what they will do to ensure that safety is first and foremost as it crosses the different areas with the pipeline."
Speaking in Calgary, Energy Minister Ken Hughes said the Enbridge spill would have unfolded much differently had it taken place in Alberta instead of Michigan.
"Had that circumstance developed in Alberta, and had the company been notified by the regulators that there were problems with the pipeline, and had that company not responded to that, if there was any risk to people or to the environment, they would have been shut down for not responding," said Hughes.
"It's quite different here. We have a very high standard here of expectation around performance."
Mike Hudema of Greenpeace said ERCB reviews of Alberta pipeline spills take on average about nine months to complete. That's not fast enough, he said.
"Based on our spill average, that means we can expect 484 spills before the premier decides whether to actually initiate the review. That's simply not acceptable."
Farrah Khan of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment agreed.
"We would like to see an independent review done much quicker than that. If we're not able to find answers soon about why we're having these spills that are impacting drinking water and wildlife — and human health, at the end of the day — I think we need to make sure the province sees it as a real priority."
The energy board points out millions of litres of oil are piped safely every day. It cites statistics showing that leaks are at all-time lows of 1.6 incidents per kilometre of pipe.
Some say that figure hides as much as it reveals and downplays the more than 600 leaks a year in Alberta. It doesn't include leaks from pipeline-related facilities such as pumping stations and does include many kilometres of lines that are no longer used.
The board doesn't release all leak locations or the contents of those leaks.
Critics also wonder about the cumulative impacts. Industry figures show pipelines have released at least 3.4 million litres of hydrocarbons into the environment every year since 2005.
Others point out much of Alberta's more than 400,000 kilometres of pipe is now 40 and 50 years old. As well, the sweet crude and natural gas the lines were designed to carry are shifting to heavier and harsher substances such as dilbit, an acidic and abrasive blend of fluids and oilsands bitumen.
— With files from John Cotter in Edmonton and Lauren Krugel in Calgary
Syncrude Upgrader and Oil Sands
The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.
Boreal Forest and Coast Mountains / Atlin Lake, British Columbia | 2001
This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.
Tailings Pond in Winter, Abstract #2 / Alberta Tar Sands | 2010
Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.
Aspen and Spruce | Northern Alberta | 2001
Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.
Tar Sands at Night #1 | Alberta Oil Sands | 2010
Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.
Dry Tailings #2 | Alberta Tar Sands | 2010
In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.
Tailings Pond Abstract #2 | Alberta Tar Sands / 2010
So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.
Confluence of Carcajou River and Mackenzie River | Mackenzie Valley, NWT | 2005
The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.
Black Cliff | Alberta Oil Sands | 2005
Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.
Oil Sands Upgrader in Winter| Alberta Oil Sands | 2010
The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.
Boreal Forest and Wetland | Athabasca Delta Northern Alberta | 2010
Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.
Tar Pit #3
This network of roads reminded me of a claw or tentacles. It represents for me the way in which the tentacles of the tar sands reach out and wreak havoc and destruction. Proposed pipelines to American Midwest, Mackenzie Valley, and through the Great Bear Rainforest will bring new threats to these regions while the pipelines fuel new markets and ensure the proposed five fold expansion of the oil sands.
<strong>NEXT -----> Craziest Pictures of the oilsands</strong>
Syncrude's Mildred Lake Upgrader, part of The Syncrude Project complex for oil sands processing, is pictured Monday, March 8, 2006 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.
The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a lake reclaimed from an old mine near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 22, 2009.
A disused mining machine on display in front of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta on October 22, 2009.
Tailings pond in winter.
The Suncor oilsands operation uses trucks that are 3 stories tall, weigh one million pounds, and cost 7 million dollars each.
Oilsands at night.
A tailings pond.
Black Cliff in the Alberta oilsands.
Oilsands upgrader in winter.
Oil sits on the surface at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. Photographer:
A large oil refinery along the Athabasca River in Alberta's Oilsands. Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Oils mixes with water at a tailings pond at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013.
Fort McMurray is in the heart of the world's biggest single oil deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands, and the oil is extracted by surface mining and refined in the region. The oil production is at the heart of the economy.
In this Aug. 5, 2005 file photo, the Syncrude upgrader spreads out towards the horizon at the company's oil sands project in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada.
This Tuesday, July 10, 2012 aerial photo shows a Nexen oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.
This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.
This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.
The Syncrude extraction facility in the northern Alberta oil sand fields is reflected in the pool of water being recycled for re-use.
A night view of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 22, 2009.
Aerial view of a lake and forests in the vicinity of oil sands extraction facilities near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 23, 2009.
Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta , Canada on October 25, 2009.
A large oil refinery in Alberta's Oilsands project. Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Next: Alberta Oil Spills
CFB Cold Lake, CNRL
A bitumen leak was reported at a Canadian Natural Resources oilsands operation in the weapons range part of the RCAF base in June 2013.
CFB Cold Lake, CNRL
Company officials said the leak - at what it calls its Primrose operation - was caused by faulty machinery at one of the wells, affected an area of approximately 13.5 hectares and released as much as 3,200 litres of bitumen each day.
CFB Cold Lake, CNRL
Preliminary tallies put the death toll from the leak at 16 birds, seven small mammals and 38 amphibians. Dozen were rescued and taken to an Edmonton centre for rehabilitation.
CFB Cold Lake
As of early August 2013, more than 1.1 million litres of bitumen had been pulled from marshlands, bushes and waterways.
CFB Cold Lake, CNRL
Although CNRL could not say when the leak may finally be stopped, it estimates it will likely cost more than $40 million to clean up.
<em>Click through for other recent spill in Alberta</em>
Little Buffalo band member Melina Laboucan-Massimo scoops up July 13, 2012 what appears to oil from the pond shoreline near the site of a 4.5 million-litre Plains Midstream pipeline leak detected April 29, 2011. Photos taken at the site and released by Greenpeace of Alberta's second-worst pipeline spill suggest at least part of the site remains heavily contaminated despite company suggestions that the cleanup is complete.
Plains Midstream Canada
A boat passes by a boom stretching out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.
Plains Midstream Canada
Debris pushes up against a boom as it stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
Plains Midstream Canada
A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.