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Wintry weather prompts Husky to suspend cleanup work at site of northern Alberta pipeline leak

Alberta Energy Regulator field team. (file photo).
Alberta Energy Regulator field team. (file photo). Credit: AER

Cold weather has prompted the suspension of cleanup operations at the site of a pipeline leak in northern Alberta where about 900,000 litres of produced water spilled last month, according to Husky Energy.

In an update posted to its website on Thursday, the energy company said “further cleanup is on hold until spring due to freezing and other winter conditions” but added that “the site has been safely stood down.”

“The spill remains contained and surveys show a considerable reduction of chlorides in the area,” Husky said.

In an email to Global News on Friday, Husky spokesperson Dawn Delaney said it was specifically “ground and water freeze-up” that posed a challenge to continuing the cleanup under current conditions.

“When we refer to a site as being ‘stood down’ it means that we have demobilized the pumping and water-hauling activities as the water and muskeg soils are frozen,” she said. “The affected water injection line remains shut in.”

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The produced water, which is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction and sometimes contains residual petroleum and chemicals, leaked into a low-lying wetland about 15 kilometres southeast of Rainbow Lake. Husky said the leak was first detected on Oct. 26.

READ MORE: Husky Energy pipeline shut in after 900,000 litres of produced water leaks in northern Alberta

“We continue to work closely with the Alberta Energy Regulator and will be monitoring the site throughout the winter,” Husky said on its website Thursday. “Fencing to keep wildlife from the area will remain in place and the investigation to determine the cause of the incident is ongoing.”

“During winter months, less produced water can be recovered because it freezes with cold temperatures,” the AER told Global News in an email on Friday. “To ensure all impacts to the environment are mitigated this winter, Husky is required to submit a long-term monitoring plan to the AER.

“The AER anticipates Husky’s cleanup efforts to ramp up next spring, as the incident site thaws and more produced water can be recovered.”

Last year, the AER told Global News that “the impact of produced water is extremely variable depending on the concentration of oil and whether the substance is ‘sweet’ or ‘sour.'”

Delaney said the spill remains contained and that to date, Husky has not observed any impact to wildlife.

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Late last month, Husky said the spill is contained “in the pipeline right-of-way and adjacent area of approximately 100 metres by 100 metres in muskeg.”