A pipeline break that saw 3,200 barrels of crude spill into Alberta's Red Deer River in 2012 came as a result of company failures and a river flow many times higher than the seasonal norm, according to a report released by Alberta's energy regulator Tuesday.
The oil release from Plains Midstream Canada ULC's Rangeland pipeline on June 7 affected landowners, farms, and rafting tour and recreational fishing operators as far as 40 kilometres downstream near the central Alberta community of Sundre – and prompted a visit of concern by Alberta Premier Alison Redford. According to the report from the Alberta Energy Regulator, the rupture to a pipeline weld was likely caused by river flow vibrations, but came after the company failed to do annual inspections of the 48-year-old pipeline, or appropriately mitigate erosion of the riverbed under the pipe.
The report also said Plains could have prevented the spill, or lessened its damage, if it had checked that the pipeline was safe following the province's high-stream flow advisories and flood warnings issued June 5 and 6. The usual river flow of 20 to 30 cubic metres per second was up to 1,000 cubic metres the day before the spill, and at the time of the break, up to 600 cubic metres per second.
Darin Barter, a spokesman for the regulator, said the energy watchdog is keeping a close eye on Plains. He noted that the company's Alberta operations have been cited in 19 high-risk enforcement actions – or directives from the energy regulator – since 2011. Last year, the Alberta government laid environmental charges against Plains for the company's 2011 Rainbow pipeline rupture that resulted in the province's largest oil spill in 36 years.
Last July, the energy regulator ordered a full-scale audit of the company's pipeline operations. It also directed Plains to update its emergency response plan in the Sundre area, and to conduct a resident awareness program. Further, it ordered Plains to submit an "action plan" to the Alberta Energy Regulator detailing what it will do to prevent future regulatory non-compliance.
Although environmental groups such as Greenpeace have criticized Alberta for not being tougher on polluters, Mr. Barter said the directives come at a significant financial cost to Plains.
"We are coming down very hard on the company," he said, noting that the company also faces extra scrutiny in the course of any project applications.
The company issued a news release Tuesday saying it is reviewing the energy regulator's findings.
"In the two years since the Rangeland Pipeline incident, Plains has worked diligently to fulfill our commitment to clean up the release and mitigate impacts," the statement said. "Plains has taken significant steps since the incident to reduce the potential for further incidents to occur."
The Rangeland pipeline was built in 1966 and originally licensed to Hudson's Bay Oil and Gas Co. Plains acquired the pipeline in 2006. The damaged stretch of the pipeline is no longer in operation.