Nexen sets up wildlife fence, will start testing water at spill site

WATCH ABOVE: Members of a nearby First Nations community say oil has already ravaged the land they once called home. Michel Boyer reports.

EDMONTON — Crews continued cleanup efforts at the site of a massive pipeline leak 36 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray Sunday as First Nations groups raised their concerns.

As of early Sunday afternoon, the energy company had conducted electromagnetic sweeps of the area, started wildlife monitoring, installing wildlife fences, and set up tanks for extra fluid storage. Nexen continued to collect some of the estimated five-million litres of bitumen, sand and wastewater that leaked over a 16,000-square-metre area near its Long Lake facility.

The rupture was discovered Wednesday afternoon by a contractor walking the pipeline.

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

On Friday, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) issued an environmental protection order to Nexen. Since then, the company has been providing daily updates on the clean-up efforts on its website.

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Senior vice-president Ron Bailey said Friday there were no residents nearby and there’s been no immediate human impact.

“We’re also taking mitigation steps as it relates to environment and wildlife and we are setting up protective equipment to keep them out of the zone.”

By Sunday, Nexen had drafted an environmental plan which was reviewed by AER officials on site. Within the next 24 hours, the company will update that plan along with its wildlife mitigation plan. It also plans to start surface water sampling and set up a hazmat station.

The electromagnetic sweeps were done to establish just how much area was impacted. Since the bitumen emulsion had a high salt content, the sweeps will be able to determine a perimeter.

Kim Blanchette with the AER said they will likely have confirmed the total impacted area within the next 24 hours. She added it appears to be close to the size initially estimated.

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

Meanwhile, First Nations groups are voicing their concerns.

“The place where they had that spill used to be my father’s trap line,” said Violet Cheecham Clarke, a member of the Fort McMurray 468 Cree Band.

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Cheecham Clarke said there was another spill in the area several years ago. She’s seen the impact of industry there.

“Before, there was only trees and after, they started drilling and all these great big tanks they started building.

“There are hardly any animals,” she said. “There’s so many birds, so many species of them, that have disappeared.”

Cheecham Clarke’s daughter represents Keepers of the Athabasca.  Cleo Reece lives half-an-hour away from Fort McMurray. She’s worried about the impact the spill will have on nearby communities like hers.

“It has actually been shown that it does get into the water,” said Reece. “This is muskeg country and muskeg is a very important part of the ecosystem up there in the boreal forest.

“Some of that oil or bitumen… is not just going to stay there… it’s going to get out there, probably in the creeks and it’s very close to a lake and that’s a very big concern.”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray First Nation wants long-term clean-up of Nexen spill 

Fort McMurray First Nation councillor Byron Bates said his people have expectations of the land currently being used by oil companies. Bates said eventually industry will be done with the area and the First Nation hopes events like the Nexen leak will leave no lingering impacts on the environment.

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Reece said Keepers of the Athabasca want to know that industry is adequately monitored and the infrastructure used is safe.

“It’s hard to see it, especially knowing my mom and the elders from our area… when they see things like this happen, it’s really difficult.”

She feels the industry is doing a better job than in the past, but nowhere near ideal.

“It’s going to keep on happening as long as there’s oil being pumped out.”

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