En­vi­ron­men­tal groups say $16K fine for pipeline spill not even slap on wrist

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS -

An energy com­pany with a history of pipeline prob­lems has been fined and warned by Al­berta's reg­u­la­tor for a 2013 spill that sent mil­lions of litres of salty wa­ter into the muskeg.

But en­vi­ron­men­tal groups say Apache Canada's $16,500 penalty isn't even a slap on the wrist.

“It's more like a wave in the gen­eral di­rec­tion of a wrist,” Keith Stewart of Green­peace said Tues­day.

Some­time dur­ing the first week in May 2013, an Apache pipeline in the Zama re­gion of north­ern Al­berta be­gan to leak process wa­ter heav­ily con­tam­i­nated with salt. That leak con­tin­ued un­til it had re­leased 15 mil­lion toxic litres into the sur­round­ing muskeg.

The com­pany fi­nally re­ported the leak to the reg­u­la­tor on June 1 of that year.

It was the latest in a se­ries of prob­lems for the com­pany. The reg­u­la­tor re­ported 12 “high­risk en­force­ment ac­tions” be­tween 2009 and 2013, most of which in­volved the re­lease of hy­dro­car­bons or other flu­ids.

“The AER in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that Apache lacked ad­e­quate pro­ce­dures, train­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and su­per­vi­sion that con­trib­uted to the fail­ure to de­tect, eval­u­ate, and take im­me­di­ate ac­tion con­cern­ing the pipeline leak and sub­se­quent re­lease of pro­duced wa­ter,” the reg­u­la­tor said in its re­port. Apache was fined on June 27. On Tues­day, the reg­u­la­tor or­dered the com­pany to hire an in­de­pen­dent au­di­tor to check how it main­tains pipeline safety. The au­di­tor's rec­om­men­da­tions must be in place by the end of the year. As well, Apache has un­til Oc­to­ber to tell the reg­u­la­tor how it plans to pre­vent fu­ture re­leases.

Apache has al­ready com­plied, the reg­u­la­tor said.

The reg­u­la­tor noted the $16,500 penalty was the max­i­mum al­lowed un­der the law.

But Stewart pointed out the penalty amounts to about one­tenth of a cent per litre.

That type of ad­min­is­tra­tive fine isn't enough to de­ter com­pa­nies from cut­ting corners, he said.

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