Duncan's First Nation: New oil spill shows Alberta pipelines are NOT in hand

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“The situation that is unfolding on our front door step shows the disregard that Alberta and the oil industry have for the environment and the rights of our community and other communities.”

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News release issued by Jenny Biem
Legal Counsel for the Duncan’s First Nation
Woodward and Company

The lands of the Duncan’s First Nation (DFN) in the Chinchaga watershed are the next in a growing list areas in Alberta impacted by oil spills. Signs of a spill from a Keyera Resources pipeline were identified from the air on September 12. The DFN was notified about the spill by way of an anonymous phone call on September 21.

On hearing the news, the DFN attempted to obtain details on the spill from operator Keyera Resources, and from the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the regulatory body responsible for overseeing pipeline safety and integrity in Alberta. The 38KM pipeline at issue was built in 1983 and the rupture occurred at approximately 90KM northwest of Manning.

Chief Don Testawich of the DFN said,

“We’ve had an observer in on the ground and employees contacting the Government of Alberta and the company. However, in our view, it’s been like pulling teeth to get details about the impact of the spill. It’s very worrying given that some of our community members have been up in the Chinchaga area doing their fall hunting and fishing. The area is critical to sustaining our culture and community’s day to day needs.

“Oil spills damage and harm the environment, our people and their Treaty rights. We expect Alberta to act in a responsible way to ensure that the 1000’s of kilometers of pipeline running through our lands can be operated safely.”

Chief Testawich continues in regards to the lack of consultation and information being shared with his impacted First Nation and states,

“While the company and ERCB have provided some vague information after repeated requests, it looks to us like there is an agenda at work to downplay this and other oil spill incidents in Alberta to keep them out of the public eye.”

The integrity and safety of the oil and gas industry’s pipeline system is very much under public scrutiny in the aftermath of a series of damaging spills in Alberta though 2011 and 2012.

This summer, Premier Allison Redford attempted to downplay the need for a safety review stating that “The situation is in hand,” referring to Alberta’s self-proclaimed pipeline safety record.

According to Alberta sources, in 2010 alone, 687 failures or leaks were reported to have occurred resulting in the 3,416 cubic metres of spilled hydrocarbons. Public pressure about the damage from oil spills and concerns about the expansion of the pipeline system outside of Alberta to transport bitumen have been increasing, and,the Government of Alberta announced the commencement of a pipeline review. The review results are due in November of 2012.

However, that review is already being questioned as not being broad enough in scope and shutting out a growing coalition of First Nations, Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations and public groups.

“The situation is NOT in hand,” adds Chief Testawich of the DFN.

“The situation that is unfolding on our front door step shows the disregard that Alberta and the oil industry have for the environment and the rights of our community and other communities. In Alberta, there is very weak regulation. Alberta’s philosophy and system of so called ‘results based regulation’, simply allows industry to police itself with little on the ground monitoring and oversight by regulators. We think that this hands off approach is irresponsible and does not safeguard the environment, our rights or the public interest.”

The concerns of First Nations, citizens and ENGOS were recently echoed by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geo-Scientists of Alberta (APEGA). On August 1, 2012, the APEGA, an organization representing 60,000 engineers sent an open letter to Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes citing concerns about inadequate pipeline welding, inspection and regulation.

The DFN, like other citizens, are concerned that the Government of Alberta’s internal review will not be sufficiently independent. The DFN believes that a review should be conducted by the Auditor General of Alberta or scientific panel. Chelsea Flook, Executive Director of the Prairie Chapter of the Sierra Club states,

“Pipelines will continue to leak in Alberta, and the limited scope of the current ERCB review will not address the overall picture of pipeline safety. Until we have a full, transparent, and independent review of Alberta’s pipeline system, we will continue to see more and more citizens, First Nations, and organizations adding their names and voicing their concerns.”

Chief Testawich closes,

“We have received direction from our elders and the community to take all steps necessary to ensure that this spill and all other spills in our lands are cleaned up, that our people are directly involved in assessing and reversing the damage and to consider our legal options if needed. When our lands and Treaty Rights have been impacted, we will stand firm on what we believe in. The land takes care of us and we will take care of it. We will stand alongside with others to press for an accountable and science-based review of Alberta’s pipeline system of oversight and monitoring.”