Alberta government lays charges against pipeline company following Greenpeace report

Feature story - April 26, 2013
The Government of Alberta has laid charges against Plains Midstream Canada ULC following a Greenpeace Canada report on the pipeline company’s oil spill near Little Buffalo, Alberta on 28 April 2011.

Download the report
Download the report

An advance copy of “The Rainbow Spill: A Case of Crime and (No) Punishment” was sent to Alberta’s Ministry of Energy yesterday and was scheduled to be released on 28 April. However, the province issued a news release on Friday indicating Plains Midstream had been charged with three violations of environmental protection legislation.

One of the key findings of the Greenpeace report is how the government and oil industry have consistently worked to limit reputational damage to companies rather than protect the environment.

“Today’s release begs the question if charges would have been laid without Greenpeace’s intervention,” said Greenpeace Climate and Energy Coordinator Keith Stewart. “In the two years since the Rainbow spill enough time has passed for Greenpeace to file information requests to the government, receive and collect the documents, and write a report. And only now they’re ready to press charges? The government and Plains Midstream have a lot of questions to answer.”

Particularly disturbing is the revelation, from internal government documents gathered under Freedom of Information legislation, that Plains Midstream re-started the faulty pipeline three times over an eight hour period despite an alarm indicating a leak. Further, the records revealed that the leak was preventable had the company performed a required test on the pipe’s faulty sleeve.

The documents also reveal that Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) investigators recommended a public inquiry be held into the spill but the proposal was rejected by the ERCB’s Chief Operating Officer at the time – a former top lobbyist for the pipeline industry. They also show that after three more high-profile spills occurred, Alberta’s Energy Minister worked closely with the oil industry to ensure a review of pipeline safety would be acceptable to pipeline companies.

 “A public inquiry into the Rainbow spill could have helped prevent those spills, including a second Plains Midstream spill near Sundre,” said Greenpeace Climate and Energy Campaigner Melina Laboucan-Massimo, who is from the Lubicon Cree community of Little Buffalo. “The government needs to stop worrying about bad public relations for pipeline companies that are cutting corners and focus on how to protect the public.”

Greenpeace’s report makes three recommendations for Alberta’s regulator:

  • Increase transparency by making information more accessible
  • Expand public involvement to help balance the influence of the oil lobby
  • Close the revolving door between industry lobbyists and regulators