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Oilsands diluent pipeline partly closed following spill near Fort McMurray

Inter Pipeline's Heartland Petrochemical Complex is shown under construction in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., on Thursday, January 10, 2019.
Inter Pipeline's Heartland Petrochemical Complex is shown under construction in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., on Thursday, January 10, 2019. The Canadian Press

Operator Inter Pipeline Ltd. says it has partially shut down its Polaris pipeline system following a leak detected on Crown recreational land just east of the Fort McMurray airport in northern Alberta.

According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, initial reports indicated about 550 barrels or 90,000 litres of light oil were released with no reported impacts to waterbodies or wildlife.

Read more: Calgary-based company fined $125K for 2017 pipeline leak southwest of Edmonton

The pipeline is used to move light petroleum such as condensate from Edmonton to the region where it is used by oilsands companies to dilute heavy bitumen so it will flow in a pipeline to market.

In a report, analysts at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. warned the shutdown, if prolonged, could potentially affect the supply of diluent for steam-driven oilsands projects owned by companies including Imperial Oil Ltd., Husky Energy Inc., Cenovus Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.

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On its website, Inter Pipeline says its leak detection systems signalled an anomaly on Saturday morning and its Polaris and Corridor bitumen pipeline systems were shut down. The source was discovered to be Polaris on Monday and the Corridor pipeline was restarted.

Read more: Estimated 150K litres of crude spills from Trans Mountain pipeline in Abbotsford, B.C.

The company is in contact with its customers but has not yet identified the cause of the leak, nor does it have an estimate of how long it will take to make repairs and get the line running again, said spokeswoman Breanne Oliver.

In 2019, the Polaris system transported an average of about 238,000 barrels per day of diluent, Inter says on its website. Oliver said she couldn’t say how much diluent is still being delivered.