Pipeline regulations and safety: 4 reasons Canada’s system is world class

Tom Pesta knows pipeline-regulation systems well. He spent 28 years working with the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), and in that time he met frequently with foreign delegations who visited Canada to learn how the industry is regulated here, both nationally and provincially.

In fact, countries around the world look to Canada’s robust pipeline-regulation system because it helps make Canadian pipelines some of the safest in the world. According to Natural Resources Canada, the rate of spills in the last decade on federally-regulated pipelines in Canada was 57 per cent lower than in Europe and 60 per cent lower than in the United States. The Canadian government reports that more than 99.999 per cent of crude oil was transported safely on federally-regulated pipelines between 2008 and 2012.

Last week, we interviewed Pesta about new liability legislation for pipeline companies. During our interview, he shared his expertise on the strengths of Canada’s pipeline system and helped us develop this list of four things that make our country a leader in pipeline regulations and safety.

*Check out this Regulatory Roadmap if you need a refresher on who regulates pipelines in Canada.

1. Technical requirements for pipelines that incorporate the most advanced knowledge and technologies

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has detailed requirements for the design, construction, operation and retirement of pipelines. This set of standards is referred to as CSA Z662.

Canadian pipeline standards

“The standards are continually reviewed and updated to incorporate the latest knowledge, technology and practices to make the pipelines safer,” said Pesta, who is now director of Pesta Consulting Ltd., an agency that advises organizations on pipeline-regulation issues.

In recent years, the requirements have been updated to include new pipeline-construction technologies such as horizontal directional drilling, and provisions have been added for new leak-detection methods. The standards have also been amended to include processes for managing safety, such as the use of integrity management programs.

You can see the continuous improvement of the requirements just by looking at the sheer length of the standards’ document. In 1967 the standards were 88 pages long, now they are 511 pages long.

2. World class emergency planning and response

Canada’s emergency planning and response systems are world class because of both strong regulations and efforts by the pipeline industry to continuously improve.

Canadian regulations “specify clear requirements for emergency response plans,” Pesta explained. “These include requirements for public- and government-agency involvement, frequency for updating, consultation, notification and emergency response exercises.”

However, pipeline companies do not just meet the “minimum requirements” set out by regulations. Their commitment to continually improve the safety of pipelines has spurred collaboration between companies that is seldom seen in the private sector. For example, in November 2013 the pipeline industry announced the Mutual Emergency Assistance Agreement, which lays out a framework for pipeline companies to assist each other in an emergency.

3. Regulatory inspection and compliance verification

When we watch the news, we often hear about regulators reviewing an application for a new pipeline. However, pipelines in Canada need to meet regulations throughout their lifecycle. Regulators ensure companies are complying with requirements through measures such as inspections, audits and investigations.

“The regulatory agencies have effective methods in place to verify compliance,” explained Pesta. “For example, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) uses a Compliance Assurance Program, which uses an enforcement process which could escalate to a shutdown of a pipeline until the AER is satisfied that it would be safe to return the pipeline to service.”

4. Continuous improvement from the pipeline industry

Pipeline companies know they need to earn the trust of Canadians by ensuring our pipelines are the safest in the world, and the way to do that is to continually improve performance.

“I believe that all companies want to comply with the requirements and want to have good operating records, and no companies want to experience pipeline failures,” stated Pesta.

One way the Canadian pipeline industry is working together to improve performance is through CEPA’s Integrity First® program. The program is aimed at improving emergency response and integrity management by establishing best practices and by tracking and reporting transparently on performance.

Leadership now and in the future

Canadians created our world class pipeline system by implementing, over decades, new knowledge and lesson learned into standards and best practices. It is through ongoing collaboration and improvement that our industry can continue to set the bar for safe pipeline operations in the years ahead.

Want to learn more about the strength of pipeline regulations in Canada? Watch this video:


The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2012, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.