As three controversial megaprojects generate headlines across the country, the Canadian Pipeline Technology Collaborative is to look for ways to make the system safer and more efficient, said industry spokeswoman Brenda Kenny.
"The program objective is, number one, technology development," said Kenny, who is with the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association. "We think we can do better on the technology innovation curve.
"(But) if we achieved nothing but leverage, clear priorities, replace duplication with going harder and faster on things that matter, that sort of opportunity would itself boost the outcome."
Alberta, British Columbia and Natural Resources Canada, as well as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the pipeline association are setting up the collaborative, which is expected to be operational by late fall. Universities, environmental and aboriginal groups are likely to be invited to the table eventually, said Kenny.
The Saskatchewan government has also been approached.
"We're hoping this will be a pan-Canadian approach," said Richard Wayken, vice-president of Alberta Innovates, the provincial agency that first proposed the idea. "This is something that everybody feels is needed and it feels like the right time."
The group's goal is to sponsor "targeted" research at universities and other institutions using public and private dollars.
"If we can get a clear organizing framework with clear players involved and clear strategies and priorities, the money will follow," Kenny said.
"Industry is investing heavily already. Next-generation breakthrough improvements that maybe have a longer lead time are maybe better done in a public setting."
The new group also plans to spread information about current research. Kenny notes one Alberta program is spending more than $4 million on better leak detection methods.
"What we need to change is the fact that that project has happened in a three- or four-way conversation and other folks across the country don't even know it's going on."
The group could also help develop new regulatory standards.
Wayken said the ultimate goal is to bring together everyone from scientists to suppliers to improve the pipeline industry's performance.
"To bring technology to market and to use, you need to engage across a broad spectrum."
He said competitive pressures will impel industry to adopt good ideas.
"Technologies will naturally have an uptake."
Kenny acknowledges controversy around pipeline proposals such as the Northern Gateway to the B.C. coast, the Keystone XL into the U.S. and the recently announced Energy East project has had a part in the collaboration's formation.
"This does play in to the fact that as Canada moves to increase the movement of energy, we need to redouble efforts to ensure there is no stone left unturned," she said.
"There's clearly a whole new conversation happening about energy and environment and economy in Canada today. Our central duty in that is to do everything we can to assure a safe and socially and environmentally responsible pipeline industry for Canadians."
Keith Stewart of Greenpeace said it's telling that no environmental or aboriginal groups have been invited to help determine the group's goals and objectives.
"Industry says, 'Oh yes, of course we'll engage people — after we've set everything up.' The people who have been expressing concerns aren't getting any say on setting terms of reference, the types of things that are going to be looked at, how it's going to operate."
Wayken, who's been working on the proposal for almost a year, said broader involvement will come.
"We're just not there yet. We need to start somewhere."
Noting Alberta has yet to release a long-awaited report on pipeline safety, Stewart suspects the collaborative may be aimed more at public opinion than anything else.
"We've see this around the world, where companies who are under fire launch these types of initiatives to try and allay public concern and avoid new regulation," he said. "They treat it as a public-relations problem rather than an operations problem."
Improved technology and better practices already exist in other jurisdictions and Canadian companies just have to be compelled to adopt them, said Stewart.
"Researching these things is good. But implementation is key and it usually requires government to enforce implementation of better safety measures."
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