On Friday, the Alberta government did something they didn't want to do. At 10:00 a.m. from a room in Calgary Energy Minister Ken Hughes announced that the ERCB (Energy Resources Conservation Board), in conjunction with an independent third party, would do a review of pipeline safety in the Alberta.
This is a review that the Alberta government didn’t want to happen. Just the day before when Premier Redford was asked about the review she said her position remained unchanged and according to one reporter seemed ‘pretty pissed’ about the question of a review. Yet less than 24 hours later, we have a review.
The reviews announcement came about only because of grassroots organizing and the power of people to force a recalcitrant Alberta government to take this step.
The pressure began after Alberta suffered it’s second major oil spill in less than a month. The spill poured oil into the Red Deer River, the drinking water supply of tens of thousands of Albertans. While local landowners feared about the destruction of their livelihood, the Premier described the spill as ‘an exception’ and said that no pipeline review was needed. The company responsible for the spill said ‘we were lucky.’
Oil Spill in Red River. Photo Credit: Mike Hudema
The lack lustre response prompted members of Greenpeace, the Alberta Surface Rights Group, the Council of Canadians and the Sierra Club to meet in a Legion in Innisfail to discuss how to get the Premier to realize this spill was no ‘exception’ and instead much more work needed to be done.
Following the meeting, the unlikely coalition, started to work the phones and within a week, 17 groups published this ‘Feeling Lucky’ ad in the Red Deer advocate, the city whose water supply could have been affected by the large oil spill into the river.
The ad came out just as another major oil spill hit the province, the third major oil spill in less than a month this one by spill prone Enbridge Inc.
After the ad and the third spill the Premier’s tune started changing a little. She said she was ‘open to the review’ but not until after the investigation into the Red Deer spill, a process that could take over a year.
A promise to review whether to review after a potential year-long investigation was little comfort to land owners throughout the province or to environmentalists. Based on Alberta’s yearly spill average Albertan communities would suffer 638 pipeline spills in that time.
Instead of waiting, the group again hit the phones outreaching to new groups and to increase the pressure. Fairly easily the groups number grew from 17 to 54 and just last week the 54-groups representing a broad cross section of interests from health, to farmers, First Nations groups, labour and environment published an open letter to the Premier demanding an independent review now.
The growing numbers, the diversity of voices, all put more pressure on the Premier to act. I’m sure the government did not like that Greenpeace was now working with members of the rural conservative base.
Finally, as Greenpeace was set to unveil graphic photos showing another problem in Alberta’s pipeline management the government scheduled an ad-hoc press conference a half-an-hour before and announced the review.
Now the review isn’t perfec. It’s led by the ERCB, the regulator that is a major cause of Alberta’s pipeline problems, but it is still a step forward and a step the government didn’t want to take. This is another victory for grassroots organizing and for people. It was people power that got this review and people power that moved a usually unmovable Alberta government.
So while we fight to make this review truly independent and continue to push for the world we need I hope we all pause and for a second raise a glass to the power of people.