National Energy Board demands full audit from pipeline company Plains Midstream

CALGARY – Canada’s energy regulator has ordered a pipeline company with a recent history of large spills to do an independent audit of its entire network across four provinces.

“We’ve worked very closely with this company and what we’re not seeing is full compliance with all of the recommendations,” said National Energy Board spokesman Darin Barter. “Those corrective actions haven’t been completed to our satisfaction.”

Barter said the board’s concerns are wide-ranging and serious. They include hazard identification, risk assessment, risk control, training and documentation of safety procedures.

“It’s broad concerns that we have.”

Calgary-based Plains Midstream wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Last summer, the company paid $1.3 million in fines for two spills that sent nearly five million litres of oil into Alberta rivers and wetlands.

An agreed statement of facts said a poorly welded and highly stressed section of the 48-year-old Rainbow pipeline cracked on April 28, 2011. About 4.5 million litres of oil leaked into low-lying marshlands near the northern Alberta community of Little Buffalo.

Only the lucky location of a beaver dam prevented the oil from flowing beyond the low-lying spot where the leak occurred.

The company also pleaded guilty to a June 2012 spill into the Red Deer River near the community of Sundre in central Alberta. Under the pressure of water flows more than 10 times normal, a length of the 48-year-old Rangeland pipeline running underneath the river failed.

Several Sundre residents, including five members from one family, went to hospital with respiratory complaints. People with homes along that stretch of river had to leave. Some were not able to return to their homes for weeks.

Gleniffer Lake, a downstream reservoir popular with anglers and boaters, was closed for three weeks at the height of summer. Drinking water in the area was also affected.

The company has until the end of the year to commission and complete a third-party audit of all 5,000 kilometres of pipeline it operates in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

It must also submit for approval a quality assurance program before April 30 and meet quarterly with board staff to report on its progress.

Barter said the order is rare, but not unprecedented.

He said Plains can ask for a variance if it can’t meet the timelines. But the regulator also has the ability to step up its enforcement to include fines and even shut down operations, Barter said

The company is currently operating under close board supervision and isn’t a threat to public safety, he added.

“There’s no immediate safety concern from their pipelines. What we’re seeing is a trend that hasn’t been corrected and we don’t see a path forward from the company to correct their non-compliances.”

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton