leaky pipeline gives slick impression of alberta oil.

Alberta Oil Pipeline Leak Red Deer
A pipeline leak spews oil into a central Alberta lake (photo from @tedgbauer at https://twitter.com/tedgbauer/status/211154927446278144/photo/1)

When word first broke that a leaky pipeline near the central Alberta town of Sundre had poured an estimated 1000 to 3000 barrels of oil into a tributary of the Red Deer River, Premier Alison Redford was quick to respond. That afternoon, the Premier, flanked by Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen and local Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin, held a media conference near the location of the spill.

Premier Alison Redford Alberta
Premier Alison Redford

Despite the quick response, which is a change from the days when it felt like these types of leaks were publicly ignored by our political leaders, Premier Redford’s media conference cannot change the fact that oil spills and leaking pipelines have already become a regularly reported occurrence in Alberta. The latest leak comes at a crucial time when the Government of Alberta and Enbridge Inc are pushing the construction of a new oil pipeline that would travel through Alberta and British Columbia to the port at Kitimat.

As the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson has pointed out, the latest leak only confirms the suspicions and fears that some British Columbians have about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline:

B.C. will only agree to the pipeline if the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risk. That is an argument the Alberta government has not managed to put forward.

Political support for the project is also in question. B.C. Premier Christy Clark, a vocal supporter of the pipeline, has somewhat moderated her tone as her party’s electoral fortunes continue to slip further in the public opinion polls (the BC Liberals have been trailing the NDP in the polls since September 2011). The BC Conservative Party, led by septuagenarian former Member of Parliament John Cummins, are competing with Premier Clark’s Liberals for second place, and have come out in favour of the pipeline.

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix
Adrian Dix (photo from @terminator on Flickr)

Taking advantage of the unease about the environmental impact of the pipeline, BC NDP leader Adrian Dix launched a petition against the construction of the pipeline which respond to legitimate concerns about the navigation of oil-filled supertankers through the narrow Douglas Channel.

In the land of political spin, Enbridge spokesperson Paul Stanway claimed last week that the company had secured the support for the pipeline from 60% of First Nations communities along the proposed corridor. The Coastal First Nations group disputed that number, accusing Enbridge of expanding its corridor by 80 kilometres to boost the number of supporters. The group claimed many of the First Nations listed by Enbridge as supporters are located outside of any area that could be impacted by a potential spill.

BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark
Premier Christy Clark (photo from @bcgovphotos on Flickr)

Readers of this blog may remember Mr. Stanway from his previous roles as columnist and publisher at the Edmonton Sun and communications director to former Premier Ed Stelmach from 2007 until 2010.

Although the next federal election could be nearly three years away, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is capitalizing on the concerns central Canadian and British Columbian voters about the effect of oilsands development on the environment and its effects on traditional manufacturing industries (a la Dutch Disease). Everyone from former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney have chimed in to criticize Mr. Mulcair.

There is irony in Mr. Mulroney shaming Mr. Mulcair for playing regions against each other, considering that some of Mr. Mulroney’s more unpopular policies led to the divisive regionalization of Canadian politics following the 1993 election.

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives have proven numerous times over the past nine years, leveraging social and regional wedge issues can lead to great electoral success. Mr. Mulcair would be foolish not to take a page from Prime Minister Harper’s book. While conservative pundits and politicians denounced Mr. Mulcair’s criticisms, the political strategy, at least in the short-term, does not appear to have hurt NDP chances in voter-rich regions outside the prairie provinces. A recent poll showed the federal NDP in a statistical tie with the governing Ottawa Conservatives.

16 thoughts on “leaky pipeline gives slick impression of alberta oil.”

  1. I’d be curious to know how old the pipeline is that is involved in the spill, as it seems to me that older pipeline technology would be more prone to spills than newer ones (like Gateway).

    Also, given the amount of pipelines criss-crossing Alberta (oil and natural gas) the fact that these leaks actually only happen relatively infrequently is quite good evidence contrary to what many will use a leak to suggest: that pipelines are in fact the safest way to transport petro products. When people protest pipelines, it seems to me what they are really protesting is the oil and gas industry and our reliance on petroleum, not the pipelines per se.

  2. I’d be curious to know old the airship was involved in the crash, as it seems to me that older dirigible technology would be more prone to fires than newer ones.

    Also, given the amount of airships criss-crossing the Atlantic Ocean the fact that these crashes actually happen relatively infrequently is quite good evidence contrary to what many will use a crash to suggest: that airships are in fact the safest way to travel. When people protest the Hindenberg, it seems to me what they are really protesting is the flammability of hydrogen and our reliance on travel, not the airships per se.

  3. Brandon, I’m not sure that you are entirely right about that last point. I live in Grande Prairie, and I do hear from a significant number of people that while they support the oil & gas industry overall, a responsible approach to transportation which minimizes the risks only makes sense. I do think you are right, however, that people aren’t really comparing pipelines to other means of shipping, like railways & trucks. I’d be very interested to read a study that did a specific comparison of the environment impacts of those.

  4. I did a quick check so I’m hoping my math is good. A tanker truck can transport up to 9000 Gal(US). There are 42 gallons in a Barrel of Oil, so a tanker truck can transport about 210 barrels of oil. In 2010, Alberta produced just over 2 million barrels of oil (conventional, oilsands). So if we were to transition from pipeline transportation to truck transportation for oil, the oilsands alone (not including conventional oil and natural gas) would add about 9200 truck trips EVERY DAY. Do you think for a second that such a staggering increase in vehicle traffic won’t be accompanied by a corresponding increase in vehicle accidents and driver complaints?
    There are a lot of mature lines out there getting older all the time so a system of inspection is critical and most companies do have extensive inspection and monitoring systems in place but there are always going to be accidents.
    The only way to address that is to reduce the volume of oil flowing through the lines. If you really want to reduce the chances of an oilspill the answer is easy – stop buying oil products, oil byproducts or any product that required the burning of oil products to transport.

  5. Dave,
    You’re a little off on your assessment of BC politics. If Premier Clark makes the Enbridge pipeline the election issue, she will win. The media, greenpeace, and oilsands opponents, along with the NDP focus on the opposition to the pipeline, they focus on the negative. The problem is that view is the MINORITY. 55% of all BCers support the pipeline, 65% of northern BC people support the pipeline. And 60% of first nations that would have the pipeline cross their land support the proposed pipeline. So I ask, where is this huge opposition? the answer is it does not exist.

    But then again, polls are never wrong are they?

  6. I love how you left out that your pick is of the containment field at Dixon dam. Next the pipe line is 40 years old and built in a time when standards were slack or nonexistent today standards, material, methodological, and regulations are way different. Today they don’t cross body’s of water with single wall pipe, today welders are licensed and highly trained, today pipe lines are both x-rayed and destructive tested. Today’s pipe lines are thousand times safer then in the past and with each rupture even more standards are put in place. Humans are not perfect but as long as we learn from our mistakes progress will occur.

  7. Quick math check. Oilsands alone would produce about 4200 truck tris daily, 9200 estimate is for all oil production.

  8. I’m actively opposing the Enbridge pipeline… largely because it would allow a huge increase in tar sands production. It effectively becomes a pipeline from some of the most carbon intensive oil in the world directly into our atmosphere.

    In BC, many people are less concerned about the pipeline than the 200 or more giant tankers that would have to negotiate a narrow channel and challenging seas to ship the bitumen.

    It’s just a matter of time until the Exxon Valdez disaster is vastly surpassed by a tanker accident that would devastate much or all of the BC coastline.

    A recent piece in the Vancouver Province by a veteran sea captain calls the tanker plan plain dangerous. http://bit.ly/Nrbvf6

    Shipping raw bitumen to China is simply a disastrous plan.

  9. Keith,
    Don’t confuse bitumen with oil. It heighens your ignorance of the issue.

    There are two aspects to the opposition of the pipeline. The first have legitimate concerns with the tanker traffic; fair enough, those can be addressed. The second group want to shut down the oilsands completely. Unfortunately they forget that everyone in the world uses oil and oil products, so they might as well try to shut down oxygen next. Good grief.

  10. I am predicting TODAY, 15 JUNE 2012, on Daveberta:

    that the use of fossil fuels will become obsolete before the pipeline is ever finished. then this province will have far greater problems since there is no other plan for the economy…

  11. Assuming you’re not being completely sarcastic or making a reference to the suggestion that the pipeline will never get built, declarations like that just show a lack of understanding of the world’s dependence on hydrocarbons. We are a very long time away from the point where fossil fuels are going to be obsolete. Certainly not in our lifetimes.

  12. It’s not going to be the environmental impact of oil sands production that going to stop it, it’s going to be the cost of hydrocarbons produced this way, and in other ways.

    I would NEVER underestimate the human capacity for innovation and invention in the face of increasing input costs or logistical difficulty securing supply.

    I don’t believe we have yet reached the “tipping point” with respect to the development of alternative sources of energy, the cost of which will drop significantly once its use is widely adopted. As for “plastics” and other materials, alternatives are also being developed.

    So, we might have a 200 year supply, at current rates of consumption, but I don’t think we have 200 years of demand. MAYBE 50. So we should start thinking, as a province, about what comes next.

  13. The pipeline leaked some of its contents into a Red Deer River tributary, an attempt to clean it up is underway. Accurate facts re the chemical contents, volume of leak, reason for leak are not crystal clear. A comment from Alberta’s premier that the situation is in hand and is in fact an exception regarding pipeline efficiency, safety and environmental concerns.. was however laughable.

    I live in Ontario, Have lived and worked in almost every province of Canada. I can read, I can think, I can explore the intriguing conflict between those often described or accepted as ‘authorities’ or leaders.

    I know who Dr. David Schindler is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Schindler
    and I know who Joe Oliver is. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Oliver_(politician)
    I’ve seen the credentials of both. I’ve seen both in interviews and/or on the news.. So, my question to Albertan’s and the residents of British Columbia is who should you trust on the matter of drinking the waters, eating the fish, breathing the air or living downstream or downwind of the tar sands.

    If your answer is Joe Oliver you are essentially saying you also trust Stephen Harper, Alison Redford, Rob Anders or an unknown cadre of Chinese bureaucrats in charge of tar sands acquisitions/operations/delivery. You’re backing partisan political animals, aging stock brokers, evangelists, hacks, tired TV broadcasters.

    When you determine your answer, I suggest you quickly move on to become informed about Joe Oliver and Stephen Harper, those two good ol Toronto boys and how they intend to help whomever ends up as premier of Alberta, remove any personal, civic obstruction to fracking Alberta inside out and sideways.

    Yes.. its not just 70% foreign ownership re tar sands/pipeline/tankers .. its fracking on a scale that hard to comprehend.. of course its either natural gas, or nuclear generating plants to power the projected escalation of the tar sands.

    They are utilizing the current blueprints on how to do this the right way, and get all the energy resources out courtesy of how Pennsylvania and North Dakota.. and Chesapeake Energy are doing it .. enjoy !
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-big-fracking-bubble-the-scam-behind-the-gas-boom-20120301

  14. We have to live with oil and gas. Or stop using it! I believe Alberta’s bitumen will go east for refining as opposed to west to the coast. The transcanada pipeline – Mackenzie pipeline has never been built- not sure the gateway will be built. Not even sure that the pipeline will be built to go south. The us is fracking intof the Bakker field – may not even need our oil. We will not stop using oil and gas – it is a matter of h ow long they will drill and produce here in Alberta as we get our supplies shut in due to cost of production vs price. Interesting dilema . At what point will Ontario and Quebec start taping their huge reserves of oil and gas

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