June 16, 2013 7:22 pm
Updated: June 18, 2013 12:54 am

Northern Alberta pipeline spill contained; cleanup efforts underway


EDMONTON- Officials with Plains Midstream Canada say they have contained a pipeline spill in northern Alberta.

The company announced Saturday it was responding to a ‘condensate release’ on its Kemp pipeline system, about 90 kilometres northwest of Manning, AB. The spill involves natural gas liquids and by-products of processed natural gas.

On Sunday, the company said cleanup efforts were underway. More than 60 staff members and local contractors are working around the clock to remove the fluids from the surface, according to Plains Midstream.

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The Canadian Press is reporting preliminary estimates from Plains Midstream suggest approximately 950 barrels were released over an area about 1.5 hectares.

The company says it has conducted a wildlife assessment and no wildlife has been impacted.

Officials say an investigation is underway to determine what caused the leak. The affected section of pipeline is being removed to be inspected by a third-party firm, Plains said Sunday afternoon.

Company officials say initial indications are that the pipeline experienced “external mechanical damage, likely attributed to construction equipment known to have been in the area.”

Plains Midstream Canada was also facing charges related to an oil spill in 2011 Monday.

The case – which was being heard in a Peace River courtroom – was put over to a date in early October.

In April, the province laid a number of charges in connection with one of the biggest oil spills in Alberta history. 4.5 million litres of oil spilled near the hamlet of Little Buffalo in April of 2011.

The Alberta government laid three environmental charges against Plains Midstream all related to the incident.

In February, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) also issued enforcement actions against the company relating to the detection and response to the spill.

The Alberta Energy Regulator officially replaced the ERCB Monday, June 17.

The Plains Midstream spill comes after a 9.5-million litre spill of oil-extraction wastewater detected in northwest Alberta earlier this month.

Apache Canada Ltd. noticed the spill about 20 kilometres northeast of Zama City in a flyover June 1. The company told Alberta’s regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board, the same day, and notified a First Nations community and a trapper nearby shortly afterward “as a courtesy,” said board spokesman Bob Curran. But at the time it didn’t seem necessary to alert the public. “It wouldn’t have been required.”

It wasn’t until Apache reported the total volume of “produced water” spilled that the board issued a press release. The Zama City spill was the province’s tenth largest “produced water” spill in almost four decades.

“The public is very super sensitive now to anything that happens,” says Richard Dixon, a business professor at the University of Alberta and Executive Director of the Centre for Applied Business Research in Energy and the Environment. “So it’s like if you… want to build a new highway and you want to make it a safe highway, i.e. Fort McMurray as an example, so every accident that occurs now in Fort McMurray, you’re just really super sensitive to that because you want to drive forward that point of getting a new highway. Same thing here,” he explains.

“What people want to know, for example, is how much was spilled, how fast is the cleanup, and how effective the cleanup, and the industry really doesn’t keep records on the last two. So the metrics need to be expanded.”

Dixon says, in an atmosphere of heightened pipeline safety debate, there has never been more public scrutiny on the issue than there is now.

“We’ve had in other industries, but with the access to markets issue that’s been brought up in the United States with Keystone, and now with Gateway, it’s a whole sensitivity they’ve never had.”

He adds that scrutiny puts additional pressure on the government.

“It really puts their credibility at test. We’ve been talking about having world class pipeline systems, and so having put ourselves out that way, any breakages, any issues like that need to be addressed.”

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