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Alberta charges Plains Midstream Canada over 2011 Rainbow spill

Clean-up operations after the April, 2011, Rainbow Pipeline rupture and oil spill near Peace River, Alta.

Jimmy Jeong/www.jimmyshoots.com

Plains Midstream Canada faces up to $1.5-million in fines after the Alberta government laid charges Friday for the company's 2011 pipeline rupture that resulted in the province's largest oil spill in 36 years.

The company, which is a subsidiary of Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline L.P., was hit with three charges under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act: for releasing a toxic substance, failing to take proper measures to contain the leak and failing to properly manage it. Each charge carries a maximum $500,000 fine.

The company offered little comment Friday, except that it is "evaluating" the charges. "We will be reviewing them with our counsel and the Crown, and will respond formally with our position in due course," it said in a statement.

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The Rainbow Pipeline fractured two years ago, spilling 28,000 barrels of light sweet crude into the area around the Woodland Cree reserve, northeast of Peace River. In a report on the accident issued in February, the province's Energy Resources Conservation Board found major flaws in the company's operations and maintenance procedures, including leak-detection alarms and response. But the ERCB did not fine the company.

The 2011 spill generated international headlines, coming less than a year after Enbridge Inc.'s high-profile rupture in Michigan, and as TransCanada Corp. was looking for U.S. approval for its still-delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

On the same day the charges were announced, Greenpeace Canada published a report on the incident that accuses the Energy Resources Conservation Board and the government of working with the oil industry to downplay the spill, and of being primarily concerned about the public-relations damage to the industry, which has faced stiff opposition to plans to construct crude pipelines through British Columbia and the United States.

Among other things, the documents show the ERCB's chief operating officer rejected a request from staff members for a full public inquiry into the accident.

Alberta Environment spokesman Wayne Wood said it is "pure coincidence" that the charges were laid on the same day the Greenpeace report criticized the government for inaction. "Because charges have been laid and the matter is considered before the courts, we won't be commenting on the Greenpeace report," he said.

Plains Midstream is now teaming up with Keyera Corp. on a plan to build a pipeline to send natural gas liquids like propane and butane from the liquids-rich gas fields of northwestern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia to Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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