June 29, 2013

2.5 million gallon spill from Northern Alberta pipeline

Northern Alberta pipeline was only five years old before massive 2.5 million gallon toxic spill.

The substance is the inky black colour of oil, and the treetops are brown. Across a broad expanse of northern Alberta muskeg, the landscape is dead. It has been poisoned by a huge spill of 9.5 million litres of toxic waste from an oil and gas operation in northern Alberta, the third major leak in a region whose residents are now questioning whether enough is being done to maintain aging energy infrastructure. 

"Every plant and tree died" in the area touched by the spill, said James Ahnassay, chief of the Dene Tha First Nation, whose members run traplines in an area that has seen oil and gas development since the 1950s.

Neither Apache nor Alberta initially disclosed the spill, which was only made public after someone reported it to a TV station late last week. Bob Curran, a spokesman for the ERCB, defended the late release of information, saying it took 10 days to determine the size of the spill. "The second we knew the volumes, we put out a news release," he said. Asked how it could take so long to determine the severity of a large spill, he said Wednesday: "We didn't know it was over 42 hectares. We found that out last night."  [Globe and Mail]

The spill has affected 42 hectares (104 acres) near Zama City, Alta., less than 100 kilometres from the Northwest Territories border. The local Dene Tha First Nation has reported extensive damage to vegetation and forest in the spill area; aerial photos show a broad strip of trees that have turned brown.

But Mr. Wall said it is "kind of puzzling" why the pipeline leaked, given its relative youth.
It was what he called a "premium flex line that was coated inside and out" and designed for decades of use. "We just need to get this all cleaned up, get it reclaimed, do the remediation – then we'll figure out what happened."

He declined comment on how long the leak had continued before it was detected. Based on the browning of trees, the Dene Tha suspect it has been a longstanding spill – perhaps dating back to the winter. [Globe and Mail]

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