Plains Midstream charged for oil spill

Provincial and federal environmental charges have been laid against Plains Midstream Canada ULC in connection with a June 2012 oil spill on the Red Deer River.

Provincial and federal environmental charges have been laid against Plains Midstream Canada ULC in connection with a June 2012 oil spill on the Red Deer River.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) announced on late Friday afternoon it was laying a charge of failing to report a release of crude oil from a pipeline.

Plains Midstream also faces a charge under the federal Fisheries Act for the spill that released about 2,900 barrels of sour crude oil into the Red Deer River just a few kilometres downstream of Sundre.

AER spokesman Darin Barter said the charges were laid on Friday, but he did not have much additional information.

“This is the first time we’ve put forward one of these issues for the prosecution,” said Barter. The AER was formed in June 2012 to oversee oil, gas and coal development in Alberta.

Barter did not know the maximum penalty Plains Midstream faces. He referred further questions on the prosecution to Alberta Justice.

The charges follow on the heels of an AER investigation into the spill that blamed Plains Midstream for numerous failures that led to the pipeline break under the Red Deer River.

The AER says in a report released in March the Calgary-based company did not inspect the pipeline annually or even follow its own pipeline integrity management program.

Plains Midstream also failed to undertake appropriate measures to combat erosion it had detected under the pipeline or “apply appropriate mitigation measures according to its own hazard assessment,” says the report on the spill that saw riverbanks coated in a layer of stinking black light sour crude. The leak forced the closure of Gleniffer Lake to recreational users and led to a fishing ban.

The company knew, following inspections in 2008, that the pipeline route under the river was prone to wash-out erosion.

However, “Plains did not apply any additional measures to reduce the likelihood or consequence of failure,” the report says.

The company also failed to limit the amount of crude oil that flowed out of the 12-inch (32-cm) pipeline by not responding properly to a provincial high stream flow advisory.

An investigation by pipeline experts determined that a “full guillotine failure” was detected at a pipeline weld at the west bank of the river.

The problem was pinpointed to “high-cycle fatigue, likely caused by vibrations induced by river flow, and that the section of the pipeline that failed must have been exposed during the incident and was likely uncovered by scour.”

Four high-risk enforcement actions were issued against Plains Midstream last year as a result of the spill. As well, in light of two other Plains Midstream spills, in 2011 and 2013, the province ordered an audit of the company’s operations in Alberta.

That report — which will determine whether the company is allowed to continue to operate in the province — is due out later this year.

Plains Midstream could not be reached for comment.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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