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WIN! Grassroots Pressure Forces Alberta Tories to Launch Pipeline Safety Review

Following weeks of mounting public pressure from Albertans and a growing coalition of Alberta-based organizations, Alberta’s Energy Minister Ken Hughes announced on Friday that the provincial regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), will be asked to “retain an independent third party to examine elements of the province’s pipeline system.” The review, according to the government release, “will examine how pipeline integrity is managed, how safety of pipelines crossing water ways is ensured, and how responses to pipeline incidents are handled.”

The announcement is a major victory for grassroots pressure and advocacy, and marks an about-face for the Redford government, which initially stated such a review was not necessary, before shifting to the position that it was “not opposed” to such a review, but that it would wait until the ERCB had completed its investigations into the individual spills that have hit Alberta in the past two months. As late as 24 hours prior to the announcement, Premier Redford was stating that such a review wasn’t in the cards. But on Friday, the hard work and pressure by Albertans finally paid off.

The call for an independent review of pipeline safety in Alberta was sparked by a series of three oil spills in the province over the past two months and a damning report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board which slammed Enbridge’s handling of the 2010 spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

While the review is a giant leap forward for Albertans getting some much-needed answers about the state of the province’s pipeline infrastructure, the review isn’t perfect. The involvement of the ERCB, which has lost all credibility with a wide range of Albertans and is seen by many as part of the problem, is a major concern, and there are many key issues that will need to be addressed prior to the review, the most important being who the “independent third party” who will conduct the review will be. The scope of the review is also an issue, as it leaves out critical questions such as government oversight, regulation, and enforcement that other jurisdictions, including the Auditor General of Saskatchewan, have included in similar reviews. (Alberta New Democrat MLA David Eggen has already asked Alberta’s Auditor General to “undertake a complete systems audit of pipeline construction and operation regulations” in the province.”)

So, while the devil will indeed be in the details, and the review isn’t perfect, it’s worth taking the time to celebrate this partial victory, and to join those who have already started to ask questions in keeping the pressure up to ensure that the review is truly independent and as comprehensive as Albertans deserve.