CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Fifty-four advocacy groups, from environmentalists to landowners to aboriginal nations, called on the Alberta government on Thursday to launch an independent inquiry into the safety of pipelines in the Western Canadian province in response to oil spills at home and in the United States.
In an open letter to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, the groups demanded a speedy investigation into pipeline integrity so people in the country's largest oil-producing region can be assured that their communities and drinking water are safe.
"The time for leadership on pipeline safety is now, and the first step must be an independent pipeline safety review, said the coalition, which includes groups such as Alberta Landowners Council, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Environmental Defence.
The letter ratchets up the pressure on Redford and her government, major supporters of the province's oil industry, in the same week as the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board sharply criticized Calgary-based Enbridge Inc for a breakdowns in safety measures that led to a damaging 2010 pipeline rupture and oil spill in Michigan.
Last month in Alberta, pipelines owned by Enbridge and Plains All American ruptured and spilled crude into lands and rivers in separate incidents.
The controversy comes at an awkward time for Alberta as its energy sector seeks to access lucrative new international markets with its oil sands-derived crude via pipelines to the Pacific Coast and Texas planned by Enbridge and TransCanada Corp. The multibillion-dollar proposals face opposition from environmentalists and others.
The 54 groups said Albertans could not wait until another spill occurs for a review to start. They pointed out that the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board, the energy regulatory, exceeded its target in 2011 with 155 pipeline infractions.
Ken Hughes, Alberta's energy minister, declined to say whether an independent inquiry is a possibility, saying he was still weighing his options.
"I'm going to be seeking advice from my officials and from the industry on what is the best way to approach this, because I think everybody recognizes that this is an exceedingly important time in the life of the pipeline industry, and I'm going to be conveying that message very clearly to the industry," Hughes told reporters after giving a speech to the TD Securities Energy Conference.
Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Gunna Dickson