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Cleanup underway at site of latest Alberta oil spill

A cleanup is underway after an oil spill Monday along Enbridge’s Athabasca pipeline, southeast of Elk Point, the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board says.

The company estimates about 230,000 litres of heavy crude oil spilled from a pumping station along the surface pipeline about 24 kilometres southeast of Elk Point, the board said Tuesday.

The spill was reported to the appropriate agencies on Monday, said ERCB spokesman Darin Barter.

“It does take some time to assess the site, get our field folks on-site, determine the extent of the spill, talk to the company and see what they estimate the volume at,” Barter said. “This one is significant enough that we issued a news release on it.”

The pipeline was shut down early Monday and the pumping station was fenced in. The company restarted the line Monday afternoon but shut it down again after bring ordered to by the ERCB.

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“The oil has not affected either running or standing water,” Barter said.

He could not provide more detailed information on the terrain where the spill happened.

Barter said it’s too early to say what caused the spill.

In a statement, Enbridge said the cause “appears to be a failure of a flange gasket” in the pumping station. A flange gasket seals two pipe components together. The company said scare cannons have been set up as a deterrent to prevent birds from landing in the spill.

The majority of the spill was confined to Enbridge’s site, but about 30,000 litres spilled on a landowner’s field, the company said.

ERCB inspectors arrived at the site Monday, Barter said.

“We’re on-site with our field surveillance (people) who have expertise in spill cleanup in pipeline operations. Our pipeline operations folks will be on-site and ensuring the company takes every appropriate measure to clean up the oil off the ground,” Barter said.

“At the same time, we’ll start an investigation. Our incident investigators essentially go out there and they start measuring, taking pictures and doing what it is that investigators do that will formulate ultimately what exactly happened and if there’s enforcement action that’s required.”

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It is up to Enbridge to pay for and complete the cleanup, he said.

“If we believe the company needs to have additional equipment or needs to move faster in some responses, we’ll direct them to do that. We oversee; we don’t participate.”

The 541-kilometre pipeline stretches from the Fort McMurray oilsands to Hardisty and has a capacity of 345,000 barrels per day. The company wants to expand that to 570,000 barrels per day with the addition of new pumping stations. The pipeline was completed in 1999.

The spill was the third in the past two months. Asked about the implications for Alberta’s reputation abroad, Energy Minister Ken Hughes urged Canadians to think of the broader context.

“Canadians buy gas at their local gas station. If they thought about it at all, they’d realize that gas generally gets there by one means of transportation or another, and it involves a lot of pipelines.

“They make the choice to buy gasoline.”

Hughes emphasized that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and that Alberta has rules requiring pipeline operators to tell the public about leaks and to clean them up immediately.

“I believe our reputation as a province – is governed by how we respond when incidents like this happen, how industry responds, how responsible they are,” Hughes said.

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“In that respect, Alberta has a very good reputation and has very high standards.”

The province is backing the construction of the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline intended to transport Alberta bitumen from Hardisty to Kitimat, B.C. If built, the pipeline would allow Alberta to sell its oil to booming Asian markets.

Polls consistently show the majority of B.C. residents are opposed to the pipeline, in part because they fear that leaks will damage the environment.