The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) of Alberta issued four “high-risk enforcement actions” against Plains Midstream Canada last week in relation to the May 2011 pipeline spill that left the Lubicon Cree community of Little Buffalo drenched in oil for weeks.
The results of the ERCB’s comprehensive investigation into the pipeline break, which leaked 28,000 barrels (4.5 million litres) of crude oil from the Rainbow Pipeline 95 km northeast of Peace River, concluded Plains Midstream failed to comply with regulatory requirements in four areas.
High-risk enforcement action was taken against the company for inadequate backfill and compaction procedures, operations and maintenance and leak detection and response, as well as failure to test its emergency response plan.
In addition to those four areas, ERCB also criticized the company’s “substandard efforts” beyond initial notification to ensure that the public and impacted stakeholders were kept informed of the incident and the remediation progress.
“As a result, Plains has been directed to engage a third party to conduct an audit of the company’s ability to manage communications during a crisis, with the results submitted to the ERCB no later Apr. 30, 2013,” the board ruled.
The company was not forced to pay a fine.
Plains is also required to run risk assessment procedures to identify current and past risks associated with similar pipelines, conduct a “major emergency response exercise” by Mar. 31, 2013 – with results to be submitted to the ERCB – and to demonstrate that backfill procedures have been incorporated into the company’s standard operations.
The company was also forced to conduct a number of activities at the time of the incident, including excavating all welded pipeline sleeves for ERCB inspection, doing weekly aerial patrols of the pipeline, implementing leak detection and pipeline restart procedures and revising its backfill and compaction efforts.
“Since the incident, Plains has been subject to an increased frequency of ERCB audits and inspections of the company’s pipeline operations,” the board stated in its ruling. “Failure to comply with all ERCB-directed actions will result in the escalation of enforcement action, which can included partial or full suspension of operations.”
The pipeline was reopened on Aug. 30, 2011. The site has been cleaned up and reclamation and remediation efforts are still underway, the board said.
Other spills receive similar criticism
Plains Midstream was not the only company to receive a sharp critique from the ERCB last week.
Similar high-risk enforcement actions were issued against the Pembina Pipeline Corp. and low-risk actions against Pengrowth Energy for pipeline spills that occurred in mid-2011 near Swan Hills.
Pembina was censured for neglecting to immediately inform the ERCB about a pipeline spill on July 20, along with a second failure that occurred on the same pipeline 1,600 m from the first break on Aug. 15.
“Through the investigation, the ERCB determined that both pipeline failures were caused by circumferential stress corrosion cracking,” the report concluded.
The board directed the company to develop and put in motion a dig program to address potential cracking in all pipelines “in a condition similar to the condition of the pipeline that failed,” and to share what it learned from the incident with its industry peers.
Pengrowth was criticized for operating the pipeline for more than a year under “faulty construction practices” before a pipeline failure on June 26, also near Swan Hills. It was forced to modify its construction and inspection system.