Apache pleads guilty to pipeline violations after multiple spills

Spills near Whitecourt and Zama city

CALGARY — Apache Canada Ltd. has pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to properly operate its pipelines after multiple spills on its network.

The company pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to violating the Pipeline Act and the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act in relation to a pipeline spill near Zama City, Alta., on Oct. 25, 2013, and a second spill on Jan. 21, 2014, not far from Whitecourt, Alta.

The spill at the company’s Shekilie field near Zama City released 1.8 million litres of produced water, generally a mix of mostly salt water with some oil, that affected about 3.8 hectares of public land. The spill at its Belloy field, about 40 kilometres northwest of Whitecourt, released just under two million litres of produced water.

The court ordered the company to pay $350,000 in penalties for the two spills, with most of the funds going to a creative sentencing project where Alberta Innovates Technology Futures will research remediating salt-affected soil.

Apache spokesman Paul Wyke said the company took corrective measures after an audit of its practices and has a robust pipeline management system in place.

“Apache takes its environmental responsibility very seriously and we have addressed the impacts resulting from the Shekilie and Belloy incidents,” he said.

“We sincerely regret that these incidents occurred and Apache is committed to operating our pipelines safely.”

In the agreed statement of facts on the Zama City spill, the company admitted that it did not install a protective fence around part of the pipeline that stuck out of the ground, with evidence pointing to the possibility that a bison rubbed against the section and crushed the pipe.

On the Whitecourt spill, the company agreed that it installed the wrong size of pressure valve on the pipeline and that it did not properly review reports on whether the valves were working properly.

Apache had originally been facing fines of up to $2.5 million after being charged on five counts under the acts for the Belloy spill, and fines of up to $3.1 million and seven counts for the Shekilie spill.

Last year the Alberta Energy Regulator also fined Apache $16,500 for a May 2013 spill that released more than 15 million litres of produced water into the surrounding muskeg near Zama City.

“Albertans expect industry to respond quickly and contain spills of any size,” said AER president and CEO Jim Ellis in a release Tuesday.

“When our investigations indicate that any company has not met regulatory requirements, we use our enforcement tools to assure compliance and, in some cases, we pursue enforcement action through the courts.”


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