The $1.3-million fine slapped on Plains Midstream Canada for two oil spills is “absolutely absurd,” said a long-time surface rights activist.
“A million bucks to them is like change in the pocket,” Don Bester, of the Alberta Surface Rights Action Group, said Wednesday.
“There should be some really strong repercussions.”
Plains Midstream was fined in Red Deer provincial court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to three provincial and federal environmental charges in connection with oil spills in northeastern Alberta in 2011 and on the Red Deer River just downstream of Sundre in June 2012.
Bester does not believe fines are the way to keep oil companies in line.
“I can’t see a fine in dollar figures. I think it has to be some other kind of repercussion.”
Companies should face the threat of having their operating licences pulled if they fail to adequately maintain their pipeline systems, putting the public and environment at risk.
Bester pointed out Plains is a repeat offender.
“This just isn’t a one-time mishap this company has had. So what do we do?”
Ensuring companies are diligent is critical considering how many pipeline river crossings Alberta has and the huge amount of pipeline that is at least 50 years old, he said.
An investigation of the Red Deer River spill, which dumped 2,900 barrels of light sour crude oil into the river, was sharply critical of Plains Midstream for failing to heed government warnings about the potential impact of spring runoff on its pipeline, which had not been properly maintained.
Wayne Johnston, who lives just a few hundred metres from the spill point, is disgusted with the company’s attitude.
His wife, Ila, read a victim impact statement in the courtroom describing how the incident changed their lives. On the day after the spill, Ila had to be taken to hospital because she was suffering from breathing problems she blames on the noxious stench that rose up from the river to the house on the bluff above.
Plains Midstream has not taken responsibility for affecting people’s health, said Wayne.
“They didn’t even consider health problems,” he said, adding the company has also not taken responsibility for damaging the environment.
“These companies are getting away with murder.”
Plains Midstream apologized for the spills in a statement released on Tuesday. The company has spent $110 million on cleanup, including $70 million on work connected with the 28,000-barrel spill in northeastern Alberta and $40 million on the Red Deer River.
Staff and investment have been boosted for integrity and maintenance programs and $4 million invested to upgrade pipeline monitoring systems. A water course management program with real-time stream flow gauge readings has also been put in place.