CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada's energy regulator is demanding under tighter rules released on Wednesday that pipeline operators protect employees who blow the whistle on unsafe practices that could lead to oil spills or other accidents.
The regulations announced by the National Energy Board require companies to have internal reporting practices to ensure safety in design, materials, construction, operations and abandonment. In addition, much of the focus for accountability for safety and environmental protection is on senior executives, the board said.
Public pressure for the industry to take action has mounted in recent years after a series of pipeline ruptures in Canada and the United States, even as companies have proposed billions of dollars in expansion and new projects.
"Companies must have an internal reporting policy that will encourage employees to bring forward, without fear of reprisals, the hazards and risks that they may encounter during their work activities," the NEB said in a statement.
The newly renamed National Energy Board Onshore Pipeline Regulations follow federal changes, announced in February, that give the NEB the power to fine companies and individuals who contravene pipeline safety rules. The government also increased the frequency of energy board pipeline inspections.
Canada has 825,000 km (513,000 miles) of underground oil and gas pipelines, according to the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.
Ottawa is highly supportive of contentious proposals to get Canadian crude to new markets. They include TransCanada Corp's (TRP.TO) Keystone XL pipeline to Texas refineries from Alberta and Enbridge Inc's (ENB.TO) Northern Gateway project to the Pacific Coast.
Reporting by Jeffrey Jones