EDMONTON - Alberta plans to broaden a safety review of its vast energy pipeline network to include input from the public.

The province's energy regulator hired a company in September to conduct a technical review of pipeline safety, spill response plans and the security of pipelines that cross water.

Energy Minister Ken Hughes says after that report is complete at the end of the year, the government will ask Albertans for their views on pipeline safety.

"We do want to engage everybody who has something constructive to contribute to this so there will be wider consultations in the new year," Hughes told The Canadian Press in an interview.

"We all, as Albertans, have a concern that the pipeline industry is performing at its highest level possible. That expectation is set, not just by people who are technicians, but also by ordinary people like you and me who want to have input into policy process."

Hughes said the government hasn't decided how it will consult with the public, or whether the process will include public meetings or hearings.

The Alberta government asked for the technical safety review last summer following three pipeline-related spills.

In one of those spills, a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline leaked about 475,000 litres of oil into the Red Deer River, a major drinking water source for central Alberta.

Since July, more than 50 environmental, conservation, land rights, unions First Nations and other groups have been calling on Alberta to include the public in its pipeline safety review.

Greenpeace spokesman Mike Hudema praised the government's decision to open up the review process to the public, but said its success will depend on its willingness to share information and to really listen to people's concerns.

"I'm glad that the public is finally getting a chance to have their say," Hudema said Thursday.

"Of course, it remains to be seen as to how much of a say they will have, how much their feedback will be incorporated in the actual decisions, or whether this is really just a public relations exercise."

The Energy Resources Conservation Board hired Group 10 Engineering Ltd. of Calgary to conduct the technical review.

The company is to hand in a report to the board by the end of the month. The ERCB is to then submit the report, including its own conclusions, to Hughes by the end of the year.

Group 10 officials say under the terms of the contract, the company is strictly focusing on reviewing pipeline regulations, policies and best technical practices around the world. Consulting with the public is not part of its job.

"For this process to be effective, we have to be very guarded in how we engage people because it could turn out to be a mud-slinging, political, publicized nightmare. So we have to be cautious," Group 10 director Daryl Foley said from Calgary.

Alberta is criss-crossed by a network of more than 400,000 kilometres of provincially regulated oil and natural gas pipelines, many of them up to 40 or 50 years old.

Hughes said the report will be made public in the new year and its findings will be the subject of the public consultations. He gave no timeline on when more details of the public review will be released or when it will start.

The final goal will be to determine whether or not the pipeline industry is performing to the best world standards and to come up with science-based solutions to fix any problems if it isn't, Hughes added.

He also said the government will not allow the public consultation to delay the review process, which it hopes will reassure people in the province and around the world.

"Pipeline safety is important, not just to Albertans with respect to how pipelines perform. Pipeline safety and performance is also an important element of our social licence to operate as viewed by other Canadians and people living outside of Canada."

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  • June 18, 2012 -- Elk Point

    Enbridge Inc.'s <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/enbridge-elk-point-spill-_n_1610613.html" target="_hplink">Athabasca pipeline leaked an estimated 230,000 litres of oil</a> about 24 kilometres southeast of Elk Point, Alberta. <br></br> A member of Greenpeace cleans up a mock oil spill outside the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline office in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. The mock spill was set up by Greenpeace to show the risks of spills similar to the recent one outside of Red Deer, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

  • June 18, 2012 -- Elk Point

    Although the spill didn't leak into any waterways, Energy Resources Conservation Board's Darin Barter said the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/enbridge-elk-point-spill-_n_1610613.html" target="_hplink"> spill was considered "significant" in size</a>.<br></br> "Any amount of crude oil out of a pipeline is significant to us. Obviously we've had a number of pipeline incidents in the past short while and we're monitoring cleanup on them and we have a number of investigations underway."

  • June 7, 2012 -- Red Deer River

    An estimated 475,000 litres of oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/09/alberta-oil-spill-red-deer-river_n_1583579.html" target="_hplink">spilled from a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline</a> and proceeded to leak into the Red Deer River. <br></br> Oil from a pipeline leak coats a pond near Sundre, Alta., Friday, June 8, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipeline leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of oil. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

  • June 7, 2012 -- Red Deer River

    Some of the oil <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/11/alberta-oil-pipeline-spill-red-deer-river-clean-up_n_1588536.html" target="_hplink">seeped into the Gleniffer reservoir</a>, which some Albertans rely on for drinking water. Plains Midstream Canada <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/11/alberta-oil-pipeline-spill-red-deer-river-clean-up_n_1588536.html" target="_hplink">trucked in drinking water</a> for those residing near the area.

  • May 19, 2012 -- Northwest Alberta

    Pace Oil and Gas's waste disposal line <a href="http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/energy-resources/Rainbow Lake spill pegged at 22,000 barrels/6683338/story.html" target="_hplink">leaked about 22,000 barrels of a mixture of oil and water</a> 20 kilometres southeast of Rainbow Lake. The spill was discovered on May 19 by another oil and gas company.

  • May 19, 2012 -- Northwest Alberta

    The oil spill "<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/pipeline-spill-sends-22000-barrels-of-oil-mix-into-alberta-muskeg/article2447765/" target="_hplink">ranks among the largest in North America in recent years</a>," the Globe and Mail wrote.

  • June 26, 2011 -- Swan Hills

    A pipeline explosion and oil leak at a Pengrowth Energy facility caused a pipeline to leak <a href="http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110627/edm_oil_110627/20110627/?hub=EdmontonHome" target="_hplink">500 barrels of light, sweet crude oil into Judy Creek</a> near Swan Hills, Alberta.

  • June 26, 2011 -- Swan Hills

    Energy Resources Conservation Board spokesman Darin Barter said the <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2011/06/27/edmonton-oil-spill-swan-hills.html" target="_hplink">leak was relatively small</a>. <br></br> "It's what we would consider a minor spill with 95 per cent of the product coming out of the pipeline being water and five per cent oil," he told CBC. "However, we're taking it very seriously, as is the company."

  • April 29, 2011 -- Little Buffalo First Nation

    Plains Midstream Canada's 45-year-old Rainbow pipeline<a href="http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/a-dire-warning-from-a-broken-pipe/article4262774/?service=mobile" target="_hplink"> spilled roughly 28,000 barrels of light crude oil</a> near Little Buffalo First Nation.

  • April 29, 2011 -- Little Buffalo First Nation

    Residents, including children, <a href="http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/news-media/latest-news/urgent-measures-needed-for-citizens-of-little-buffalo-first-nation-in-" target="_hplink">reported incidents of burning eyes, stomach pains, disorientation, nausea and headaches</a>, according to the Assembly of First Nations.