An editorial from the Red Deer Advocate, published June 18:
The pipeline rupture that led to a devastating oil leak upstream of Red Deer last week is not a one-off "accident." It's a product of age, ignorance and lack of oversight. It will be repeated again, unless and until government regulators insist on major changes for pipeline operators.
Nobody can be shocked to learn that a pipeline leaked crude oil into the Red Deer River on June 7. The same thing happened in the same pipeline four years ago.
Apparently, no enduring lessons were learned from that rupture.
This woeful pattern is not unique to Alberta. It is happening across the country.
Six months ago, the environmental commissioner for the National Energy Board warned about the rising consequences of failure to manage pipelines that were installed decades ago. That's an apt description of the Plains Midstream Canada line that leaked almost half a million litres of oil into the Red Deer River last week.
Initially, it was believed that the line broke near an upstream tributary to the Red Deer River. This week, Plains Midstream Canada acknowledged that the line ruptured in the bed of the Red Deer River.
The company faces a huge bill to clean up the mess created by a leak in this old pipe. It had 180 workers on the scene this week and the company bragged about how quickly it was able to contain the floating oil.
No doubt experience helps, but acquiring skills through serial pipeline failures is not something that can make any company proud, happy or profitable.
Last week, a top Plains Midstream Canada executive said the company - and by implication everybody downstream - was lucky that the pipe broke when the line was not pumping oil and while water levels in the river and Glennifer Lake were high.
Lucky for some, but not for all.
Landowners on the banks of the reservoir and upstream Red Deer River were anything but lucky that the water was high. Farmers who grazed livestock near those shores fear that they will never be able to farm that land again.
Removing oil floating on still water is easy. Removing crude oil residue from every stick, stone and blade of grass near a river or lakeshore is next to impossible.
Who would eat meat from cattle if they knew it was raised on land contaminated by an oil spill? Not me, and probably not you or executives of pipeline companies either.
Downstream users are lucky that our drinking water supply was not endangered, because it comes from the bottom of the Glennifer reservoir, far removed from the floating oil. But all Red Deer River users must worry that what happened twice in four years is likely to happen again.
The leaky Plains Midstream Canada pipeline is one of hundreds of old lines crossing watercourses in Alberta.
Regulations governing their construction and maintenance are equally old, decrepit and poor. In water crossings, pipelines can be thinly buried under a pile of rocks. It's not deep enough. It's not safe enough.
Anywhere that a petroleum pipeline crosses water, builders should be obliged to tunnel deeply underground before inserting the pipe.
Right now, hundreds of old Alberta pipelines are not safe; scant gravel cover cannot adequately protect them.
When thick ice begins to move in the spring, it can tear up the pipelines, spilling their toxic load into the water.
Steel in many Alberta pipelines is up to two generations old, and so is the construction technology that built them. Steel pipe, shallowly buried and immersed in water is going to rust, weaken and eventually rupture.
Given what we know today about the enduring costs of pipeline breaks, it should also be wholly unacceptable.
Joe McLaughlin is the retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.
Copyright 2012 The Canadian Press. All Rights Reserved.
(Originally published June 20, 2012, in The Canadian Press.)