Nexen’s Fort McMurray pipeline spill one of Canada’s biggest ever

WATCH ABOVE: The Alberta Energy Regulator provides some details on a pipeline failure at a Nexen facility in northern Alberta. Shallima Maharaj explains.

EDMONTON – A Nexen pipeline southeast of Fort McMurray has spilled an estimated 5,000 cubic metres of emulsion – about 5 million litres of bitumen, sand and wastewater – making it one of the worst leaks in Canadian history.

READ MORE: Nexen to provide update on one of Canada’s largest pipeline spills

The Alberta Energy Regulator is responding to the 31,000-barrel spill, which was discovered Wednesday afternoon.

“Your conversion is relatively accurate,” said Peter Murchland, media relations manager with the AER. “The 5,000 cubic metres is the initial estimated emulsion volume that was released as a result of the pipeline failure and the conversion would be roughly 31,000 barrels.”

“I don’t have the historical metric numbers in front of me unfortunately. However I can tell you that certainly, in recent memory, this is one of the larger pipeline failures recently as per this year.”

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A series of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. spills near Wolf Lake have leaked about 5,000 cubic metres since May 2013. In December 1980, 6,500 cubic metres spilled from a Pembina line near Valleyview.

READ MORE: Crude Awakening: 37 years of oil spills in Alberta 

Wednesday’s leak happened about 36 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray at Nexen’s Long Lake oil sands facility. It is impacting an area of roughly 16,000 square metres in size.

Nexen activated its emergency response plan. The pipeline and pad site were “isolated and shut in, effectively stopping the sources of the release,” AER said in a statement. Nexen said Thursday the situation was stable and the leak had been isolated and was no longer leaking.

The company wouldn’t confirm how much the spill equals in litres.

Officials said nothing had flown into the water and there were no immediate reports of impacts on the public or wildlife.

A spokesperson for Nexen told Global News the spill was related to a pipeline failure and was not related to steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD).

Kyle Glennie said the leak was in a pipeline that takes emulsion from the wells to a facility.

“This was in a compacted pipeline corridor so it’s mostly compacted ground,” explained Glennie.

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“It means it’s not sitting in ground that has been prepped … it’s not a forest.”

AER told Nexen to implement a wildlife protection plan in the area.

“All necessary steps and precautions have been taken, and Nexen will continue to utilize all its resources to protect the health and safety of our employees, contractors, the public and the environment, and to contain and clean up the spill. There were no injuries due to this incident and the pipeline has been isolated,” the company said in a statement.

AER officials are on site.

“We want to make sure they’re following the requirements as required by the energy regulations in the province with regards to clean up and mitigation and certainly ensure that wildlife is protected with this wildlife protection plan that we’ve asked of them,” said Murchland.

Nexen has crews on scene working on the response. The reason the pipeline failed is still under investigation.

Greenpeace said the leak should be a wake-up call.

“As provincial premiers talk about ways to streamline the approval process for new tar sands pipelines, we have a stark reminder of how dangerous they can be,” said Mike Hudema.

“This leak is also a good reminder that Alberta has a long way to go to address its pipeline problems and that communities have good reasons to fear having more built. New pipelines would also facilitate the expansion of the tar sands – Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions – and accelerate the climate crisis even more.

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“We need to stop new pipeline projects before they’re built and focus on building renewable sources of energy that are sustainable and won’t threaten communities, our environment, and the planet,” Hudema said.

Nexen is a Canadian company that was taken over by China’s CNOOC Ltd. a few years ago.

With files from The Canadian Press

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