CALGARY (Reuters) - Canada's energy regulator has concluded that Alberta-based Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO) is operating safely, despite finding the pipeline operator had violated rules designed to identify threats to the public and protect whistleblowers.
The National Energy Board (NEB) released the findings on Wednesday in a comprehensive audit that examined six areas of Enbridge's operations over a 15-month period, including its safety oversight, emergency planning and environmental practices.
The findings are part of a routine set of company audits conducted annually by the regulator.
Enbridge has faced opposition from environmental groups over key projects such as its Line 9 reversal and the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. The projects would send crude oil to eastern Canada and the Pacific coast, opening up new markets for Alberta oil producers beyond the United States.
The board ordered the company to adopt new safety conditions for the Sarnia to Montreal 300,000 barrel per day Line 9 reversal project in June, noting at the time that the pipeline was getting more scrutiny because of public concerns about a potential spill.
The new audit, which Enbridge received on March 31, was based on a review of more than 65,000 pages of records, eight weeks of interviews, and more than three dozen field inspections, a board spokesman said.
"It is the board's view that Enbridge has the opportunity to significantly enhance its approach to safety performance and safety culture," wrote the regulator's secretary, Sheri Young, in a newly-released letter to Enbridge that accompanied the audit.
The report found that Enbridge had failed to introduce an explicit policy to encourage employees to identify hazards, incidents and near-misses, including rules to ensure that whisteblowers would not be punished. It also found that Enbridge had not completely implemented practices for identifying all hazards and risks.
"There's a lot of gray area within that audit," said board spokesman Darin Barter. "Over the 15 months that we were auditing the company, we saw real progress."
Enbridge said the audit confirmed that its existing programs and processes are successful at protecting people, the environment and its pipelines.
"The NEB's report shows we are on the right path," a company statement said.
The board, which has issued C$372,000 ($288,126.40) in fines to Enbridge since January for various violations, said it was now reviewing the company's corrective action plan.
($1 = 1.2911 Canadian dollars)
Reporting By Mike De Souza; Editing by Tom Brown