Full disclosure of problems with Rainbow pipeline needed because of past failures

Feature story - May 6, 2011
Little Buffalo, Alberta – Greenpeace is calling on the Alberta government to release all the information it has on the Rainbow Pipeline following the leak last Friday on 4.5 million litres of oil and in light of a spill of 1 million litres from the same pipeline in 2006.

According to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB), “stress corrosion cracking, fatigue cracking and external coating failure caused the release” in October 2006 of more than 1 million litres (7,500 barrels).

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation, is in Little Buffalo bearing witness to the response to the spill and the impact on the community, including the impact on members of her family. Greenpeace has taken aerial photos of the spill and made them available to media.

“Since the EUB investigation says corrosion caused the major spill from the Rainbow pipeline in 2006, it is time the Alberta government disclosed all information on the follow-up to the changes it ordered, and whether the company cut back on maintenance when it was unable to pass on higher maintenance and infrastructure costs to the companies using its pipeline,” said Melina Laboucan-Massimo.

In May 2007, following its investigation, the EUB ordered (2) Plains Midstream Canada to:

  • lower the pipeline pressure;
  • double the frequency of aerial surveillance;
  • increase ground surveillance in high consequence areas such as water crossings, creeks, wet areas;
  • conduct internal line inspections, excavate, analyze and repair sites with similar characteristics; and
  • change some of its management practices, including mixing different crudes in order to reduce stress on the pipeline.

"It appears that these incidents are not few and far between as Alberta Energy Minister, Ron Liepert would have us believe from his quotes to media yesterday,” said Laboucan-Massimo.

In 2008, the pipeline’s owner attempted to raise the rate (3) it charges to transport oil on the pipeline, in part to pay for higher maintenance costs and what it called “significant capital expenditures” it intended to make on the pipeline. This rate hike was appealed by Encana, with the result that Plains Midstream Canada (4) was ordered to issue refunds to the companies shipping oil through the Rainbow pipeline.

Greenpeace is concerned about the Alberta government’s response to the spill. The government initially misinformed the community and the public about the distance from the spill to the local school and has not disclosed on what basis it asserted in the first days of the spill that there were no health risks to the community, including to children at the school that was closed due to illness from odours.

“The Lubicon Cree still live off the land,” said Laboucan-Massimo. “My community is being reminded yet again what it is like when the government and industry put profits ahead of people and the environment. We are calling for a full investigation of this spill, in order to protect other communities from suffering similar disasters. The communication provided to the community has been extremely lacking and not transparent.”

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