Alberta to probe pipelines amid oil spill furor

Fri Jul 20, 2012 2:34pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta, the largest source of U.S. oil imports, plans to review the safety of its massive pipeline network after a number of high-profile oil spills prompted calls for action, Ken Hughes, the Canadian province's energy minister, said on Friday.

Following consultations with the oil and pipeline industries, Hughes said he directed the provincial energy regulator to retain an independent third party to review how pipeline integrity is managed, how safe water crossings are and what plans are in place for responding to spills.

Results of the study are expected in the coming months, he said. He said he was not in a position yet to name the third-party reviewer.

The initiative could lead to more stringent regulatory oversight and improved enforcement, he said.

"Let me be clear, if improvements are required, I will make sure that they happen. I will also make this report public," Hughes told reporters.

Demands for a review among landowners, environmentalists and aboriginal groups have crescendoed after pipelines in Alberta owned by Enbridge Inc and Plains All American ruptured and spilled crude into lands and rivers in separate incidents.

Then last week, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board made headlines across Alberta and the rest of Canada when it sharply criticized Calgary-based Enbridge for breakdowns in safety measures that led to a damaging 2010 pipeline rupture and oil spill in Michigan.

The issue of pipeline safety comes at a critical time for Canada's energy industry, which accounts for about a third of the Alberta government's revenue. The sector is seeking approval for new multibillion-dollar pipelines to ship oil sands-derived crude to lucrative new markets on the U.S. Gulf Coast and to Asia via the Pacific Coast.   Continued...