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Oil company negligence to blame for spill, yet again

Plains Midstream Canada
Anton Cu Unjieng

May 6, 2014

Plains Midstream Canada (PMC) is responsible for releasing close to half a million litres of crude oil into the Red Dear River in June of 2012. Recently, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER)  released the findings of its investigation into the spill that resulted from the failure of a pipeline owned by Plains Midstream Canada (PMC) .

Plains Midstream has a long record for causing such environmental disasters – a record which, incidentally, did not end in 2012. The spill in question occurred while PMC was still cleaning up the results of its massive spill in April of the previous year. While the report modestly notes that “nearby residents were impacted,” it failed to mention that the product also flowed from the river into Gleniffer Lake and Reservoir.

The report found that the company failed to comply with both the AER's and its own regulations regarding pipeline maintenance and inspection. Furthermore, while the spill itself was precipitated when the river flooded, increasing the wear on the pipe, the company ignored “the Government of Alberta’s high stream flow advisories that were issued and which would have mitigated the volume of crude oil released.”

Plains Midstream, like every other oil company, has a history of recklessness when it comes to its environmental impact. Its spill from the year before released 3.3 million litres of oil and was the largest spill in 36 years. Notoriously, control room operators ignored their system's alarms and restarted the pipeline flow three times after the rupture!

The response of the AER to this repeated and willful negligence has been tepid at best and complicit at worst. PMC is not being charged. Rather, the AER has issued a regulatory audit and “issued four high risk enforcement actions against the company for its role in the Rangeland pipeline failure. The AER enforcement action directs the company to update its emergency response plan and to conduct a resident awareness program within the emergency planning zone of the Rangeland pipeline. Further, Plains is required to develop, implement, and electronically submit an action plan to the AER detailing what the company will do to prevent future regulatory noncompliance.”

Residents should indeed be made aware that they live in the shadow of a reckless, profit-hungry corporation, criminally unconcerned about their health or the health of the surrounding waters and environment. They are not likely to receive such honesty from PMC or, for that matter, from the AER.

Being put under increased pressure to comply with their own explicit guidelines for running an oil pipeline prompted Plains Midstream to complain that, “future proceedings could result in additional operational ... constraints that would not apply to our competitors. … Significant additional expenses could be incurred if new or more stringently interpreted pipeline safety requirements are implemented.”

The implications of these words are as terrifying as they are obvious. Plains Midstream is unhappy to shoulder the costs of the requirements which even it must admit are basic to maintaining a pipeline – its competitors are not paying these costs either. It is clear that the cost of cleaning up does not compare with the profits squeezed by cutting corners, this system rewards negligence with wealth and responds to ecocide with corporate subsidies. The government bodies supposedly responsible for regulating the pipelines give them playful slaps on the wrists and encouraging winks. Only grass roots resistance can win environmental justice.
If you like this article, register for Marxism 2014: Resisting a System in Crisis, a weekend-long political conference June 14-15 in Toronto. Sessions include "System change not climate change," "Environmental racism and climate justice," and "Labour and the fight for green jobs."

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