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Albertans look to U.S. for pipelines counsel

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EDMONTON -- Some Albertans have turned to a vocal U.S. environmental group for information on pipeline safety they say they can't get from their own government.

Four conservation and landowner organizations have asked an expert from the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council to talk to them on what Albertans should be concerned about regarding the province's aging pipeline network.

"Maybe we better have somebody from the outside telling us how to run our own show," Don Bester of the Alberta Surface Rights Group said Friday. "We're not getting it from our government."

Bester's group, along with Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the Council of Canadians, is sponsoring workshops led by Anthony Swift in three communities next week.

Swift is a staff lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He has expertise in fossil-fuel subsidies, energy markets and pipeline safety and has worked as a policy analyst at the U.S. Department of Transportation. He testified before Congress against TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Keystone XL project, which would bring northern Alberta oilsands bitumen to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"What we'll be talking about is what we've learned in the United States with pipeline spills of various types -- the risks to pipeline integrity (and) unique risks that we're running into with pipeline spill hitting watersheds when heavier types of crude are involved," Swift said from Washington, D.C.

"We're going to talk about the risks that are being dealt with, current industry practice in dealing with that risk and things (landowners) can do to mitigate those risks as we see an expansion of pipeline infrastructure."

Swift's group has been working in Alberta for nearly a decade, he said, and has examined the province's pipeline infrastructure.

He won't be the only council staffer in Alberta this month. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the group's senior attorney, is to visit the oilsands region on the Canada Day long weekend.

"Is everything (Swift) says going to be taken as the gospel? No," said Bester. "But we may gain knowledge enough that we can convince our own government that we need some answers."

He hopes the visit will pressure Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes to release a report on pipeline safety that was completed last year.

"It is to put public pressure on our own government to find out what is actually in the report that we paid for."

Alberta Energy spokesman Mike Feenstra said the government didn't receive analysis of the report from the Energy Resources Conservation Board until the end of March.

"The department's taking some time to look over the initial report as well as the analysis and then we will be releasing that this summer," he said. "(We'll be) looking for public feedback as well."

Feenstra said Alberta regulators are highly experienced in pipeline safety, but will take Swift's comments into account.

There have been a number of pipeline leaks in Alberta in the last year. The latest is a 9.5-million litre spill of waste water from oil and natural gas operations. Officials say it covered 42 hectares in a remote area around Zama City.

Aboriginal groups have said the spill is so large it raises questions about how long the pipeline carrying the water contaminated with salt, oil and minerals had been leaking.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2013 B19

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