Opinion Column

Alberta oil spill record a lesson for B.C.

BILL TIELEMAN

The bottom line for British Columbians is that pipelines are risky. You can't produce a safe system, you can only produce a less risky system. There is no leak proof system.

- York University Professor Sean Kheraj

Alberta Premier Alison Redford says oil pipelines are environmentally safe, with any spills an easily dealt with unusual occurrence.

That's what Redford claimed after a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline ruptured, spilling up to 475,000 litres of crude oil into the Red Deer River near Sundre on June 7.

"It's actually an exception, if you think that we have hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipelines across this province. There has been a leak and it has been contained," she said.

Redford's comments may give false comfort as B.C. considers the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and twinning Kinder Morgan's existing pipeline - false because Alberta's actual pipeline spills record is atrocious.

It's something a so far undecided B.C. Premier Christy Clark better consider.

Between 1990 and 2010 there were 6,416 Alberta pipeline failures that released liquid hydrocarbons, according to Sean Kheraj's research using publicly available documents.

Kheraj, a professor at Toronto's York University specializing in environmental history, is documenting the frequency and severity of pipeline oil spills over Alberta's 370,000 kilometers of pipelines.

In a Sunday interview with 24 hours, he said B.C. should be concerned about "an inevitable pipeline rupture," given Alberta's own record, and "few if any benefits for B.C."

In 2010 alone there were 20 crude oil pipeline failures and 241 "multi-phase" pipeline failures - carrying both crude oil and gas.

That's a crude oil spill every 18 days and multi-phase spill every 1.4 days, Kheraj claims.

And these pipeline failures are not drop-in-the-bucket spills.

Kheraj roughly calculates that from 2006 to 2010, Alberta's pipeline network spilled a "staggering" 174,213 barrels of oil, or 27,700 cubic metres (1 cubic metre = 1,000 litres).

So Alberta's record shows frequent pipeline failures that spew copious amounts of oil into the environment with no significant analysis of the damage - and they want B.C. to accept massive new pipelines across pristine wilderness?

And then ship that oil to China in tankers down our dangerous and ecologically sensitive coast?

No thanks Premier Redford - Alberta's experience shows that what you call an "exception" of pipeline ruptures looks more like the rule.

Read more Tieleman at http://email.sunmedia.ca/service/extension/convertd/convertd/32/www.TheTyee.cawww.TheTyee.ca and http://billtieleman.blogspot.com/http://billtieleman.blogspot.com/ Email: weststar@telus.net