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‘It’s a big failure… it will take some time to clean up’: Alberta regulator on Nexen spill

WATCH ABOVE: As clean-up efforts continue near Fort McMurray, the focus today is getting to the pipeline rupture to determine the cause of the massive leak. Reid Fiest has the latest.

EDMONTON — The Alberta Energy Regulator doesn’t yet know what caused a Nexen pipeline to spill about five-million litres of oil, sand and waste water, but it does know it could take some time to clean up.

“It’s a big failure,” said Kim Blanchette, vice president of public affairs for the AER. “It has some big impacts. It will take some time to clean up.”

How long exactly? Blanchette couldn’t speculate Saturday.

“It was in a very isolated area, so Nexen actually has to build a road to the area,” she explained. “They’ve got what we call vac trucks scooping up the product as much as they can and they’re working to expose that pipe. The key is to expose that pipe, get it isolated so that they can stop any product, purge it and then move in for repairs.”

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The AER expects crews will get to the pipe sometime Saturday.

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

“What we’ve seen is a spill site that has been very well contained… fenced off to prevent wildlife from accessing it. They have all of the scare cannons… to prevent birds from accidentally getting to the site.”

“A lot of what we’re seeing is at the surface,” said Blanchette. “In the next 12 hours, as they expose that pipe, we’re going to get a better idea of what’s underneath.”

A hole, a couple of centimetres wide, was spotted in the pipeline by an employee late Wednesday at Nexen’s Long Lake facility, just south of Fort McMurray.

The company reported an estimated five-million litres of oil, sand and waste water had spilled. Nexen doesn’t know how long the pipe was leaking or the cause.

“We sincerely apologize for the impact this has caused,” said senior vice-president Ron Bailey on Friday. He said there are no residents nearby and there’s been no immediate human impact.

The pipeline was less than a year old. Despite being double-walled, a hole developed and none of the technological failsafe systems detected the leak.

READ MORE: ‘We sincerely apologize’: Nexen’s ‘failsafe’ system didn’t detect massive northern Alberta pipeline spill 

Part of the regulator’s investigation will look at what is to blame for the leak.

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“We’re looking for two things: was it a failure of the technology? Was it a failure of the company to adhere to our requirements? Or is there something that points to us having to change our requirements? Something we do all the time – we regularly change our requirements and the regulations to address new technology, new challenges.”

Blanchette said it was too early to say it was the company’s ‘failsafe’ system that failed in this case.

“Alberta has over 415,000 kilometres of pipeline. There are extensive monitoring systems and pretty strict requirements on making sure that that’s safe.

“It’s not all dependent on new technology – there’s a number of methods making sure. Our inspectors are inspecting those pipelines, a lot of monitoring going on to make sure everything is within our requirements.”

If the regulator’s requirements were not being met, the AER says serious punishments could follow.

“If we found there was significant non-compliance in specific areas, it could be anything from long-term shut downs of the production, administrative penalties, all the way up to prosecution.”

However, Blanchette stressed Nexen is “absolutely” fully cooperating.

“We’ve got a response team here working with the company going through all of their plans for wildlife protection, water body management, actually isolating the pipeline, getting it purged of product and then cleaning up the site… There’s also a team in Calgary working with the company on daily updates, making sure we’re providing updates to the regulator, to the government of Alberta and, starting today, there will be posted updates for the public on Nexen’s website.”

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An environmental protection order was issued to Nexen by the AER Friday evening.

The order means Nexen must develop and submit plans for containment, clean up and public notification. The order directs the company to:

– Contain the spill, identify affected parties and notify them, and conduct testing in the area for hydrocarbons and chlorides;

– Develop a Water Body Management Plan, Wildlife Mitigation Plan, and Detailed Delineation and Remediation Plan;

– Develop daily public reports and publish them to the Nexen website;

– Submit a final report to the AER within 30 days of the completion of all work required in compliance with the order.

The AER explained the protection order is “not enforcement” but remedial orders telling the company to provide a “plan to ensure the natural environment is reclaimed.” The regulator also said some of the work laid out in this order has already started.

The AER is on site monitoring the clean-up efforts.

With files from Reid Fiest, Global News

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