Oil spill leaves questions unanswered

An oil spill in northern Alberta has left provincial government officials concerned and calling the incident ‘unacceptable’.

An oil spill in northern Alberta has left provincial government officials concerned and calling the incident ‘unacceptable’.

Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd and Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips joined First Nations officials and members of the Alberta Energy Regulator last Friday to comment about the Nexen Energy pipeline spill after viewing the site southeast of Fort McMurray.

Officials estimate around five million litres of bitumen, water and sand leaked from a pipeline sometime in the past month. Nexen publically apologized for the incident early last week, but the government has more questions about spill response times and pipeline security.

“Spills like this are unacceptable,” said McCuaig-Boyd. “As the Minister of Energy, I’m concerned. As an Albertan, I’m concerned. We all want to know that when an incident like this happens, not only is it contained and cleaned up, but every possible effort is made to find out what went wrong and fix it; prevent it from happening again here or anywhere else in Alberta.”

McCuaig-Boyd said Albertans have made it clear the development of resources must be done in a responsible and sustainable manner.

The provincial government noted First Nations groups also need to be considered partners in emergencies like oil spills and more work should be done to remedy communication gaps.

“Since the discovery of the spill, we have been in close contact with the company through the regulator and we have confidence the regulator is doing its job to conduct a timely and thorough investigation,” said McCuaig-Boyd.

Many are working hard to clean up the site and protect the wildlife caught in the impact zone. An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the spill, the response manner and security. A public report will be issued in the coming months.

Environmentalists are sounding an alarm about not only the damage to the environment due to the spill, but also about the response time and Nexen’s lack of confirmation about precisely when the pipeline began leaking.

Nexen officials said they believe the leak occurred within a two-week window between June 29th, when crews completed a cleaning, and July 15th when a contractor discovered and reported the spill.

Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy team said they are stunned the spill went undetected for an extended and undetermined time period.

“It’s shocking to learn that the pipeline may have been spilling for two weeks before it was discovered,” said Mike Hudema of the activist group. “Warning bells should be going off for Canada’s premiers right now about the dangers they are brining to their communities if new pipelines are built.”

If this incident doesn’t resonate with the public and initiate a call to action for a change in legislation and environmental penalties, nothing will.