OTTAWA (Reuters) - Widespread concern about high-profile ruptures of Canadian pipelines shows the industry has not done a good enough job of demonstrating how safe it really is, a top industry official said on Thursday.
Among the pipeline companies, Enbridge Inc has been the target of much of the chagrin after two big leaks on its U.S. network in the last two years triggered harsh criticism of its operations from senior American officials.
The spills have brought plenty of negative media coverage about Enbridge, which wants to build a pipeline from the oilsands of northern Alberta to a port on the Pacific Coast so Canadian crude can be exported to China and other Asian markets.
Brenda Kenny, president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said her members must do more to assure Canadians that the industry has a safe record and is trying to eliminate what she said is an already small number of serious spills.
"I think every company recognizes that there are some very important questions being asked and we need to be a lot more transparent," she told a news conference in Ottawa.
"I would fully acknowledge that as a sector, we're coming to this late in terms of going public with the programs we have under way ... we should have been more communicative earlier."
Critics opposed to Enbridge's C$6 billion ($6.1 billion) Northern Gateway pipeline say the U.S. accidents only confirm their conviction that the project is too risky, especially as it would be built in an environmentally sensitive region.
The association took out advertisements in major Canadian newspapers on Thursday to announce what it said was an industry-wide initiative to boost pipeline safety by "sharing best practices and applying advanced technology" in Canada.
"You will be seeing a lot more of us," Kenny said, promising a public campaign to underline the importance of pipelines.
As well as Enbridge, members of the association include TransCanada Corp, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners Ltd, Atco Ltd and Alliance Pipeline LP.
The president of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, Canada's largest independent oil explorer and producer and a big pipeline customer, said he was not unhappy with the performance of the pipeline companies in the face of heightened scrutiny.
"Public pressure does put some risk on it," Steve Laut said in an interview.
Laut stressed many of the faulty pipelines had been in the ground for decades. New lines use better materials and technology to monitor operations, boosting reliability, he said.
With additional reporting by Jeffrey Jones in Calgary; Editing by Janet Guttsman