|An aerial shot of clean-up efforts at an oil-and-water spill at a wellhead 30 km southeast of Rainbow Lake in the remote northwestern corner of Alberta. The company estimates 22,000 barrels spilled onto the muskeg through a hole in a pipe. The spill was discovered May 19, 2012 by another company flying over the site. (QMI Agency/Handout)
For the second time in a year, a major oil spill in remote northwestern Alberta has clean-up crews scrambling.
Just what caused an estimated 22,000 barrels of mixed oil and water to spill out of an injection well over 10 acres of muskeg 587 km north of Grande Prairie is still under investigation, said Darin Barter with the Energy Resources Conservation Board.
“We have a considerable amount of oil on the ground,” he said.
Barter said he wouldn’t speculate on the ranking of the spill, billed by some reports as the third largest in Canadian history.
It was the second large spill in a year, he said, recalling the 28,000-gallon Plains Midstream Rainbow pipeline spill discovered in April 2011 some 100 km north of Peace River. A welding crack was blamed for that spill.
The most recent spill occurred 20 km southeast of Rainbow Lake, and its aftermath has apparently caused stock prices to dip for Pace Oil & Gas.
“The company’s got all the right people, personnel and contractors on site to do the job (of cleaning),” Barter said.
Fred Woods is president and CEO of Pace. He said the spill, discovered by another company conducting a flyover in the area on May 19, flowed through a hole in piping going into the well-head of a water disposal well.
That’s where a water-and-oil emulsion was being disposed of in an underground porous formation 1,700 metres down.
Woods estimated there are 80 wells within a three-mile area, which produces light sweet crude oil.
Pace has more than 50 wells — four wells with similar construction — that caused the company some concern, Woods said.
“We’ve looked at all well that are similarly configured, took them apart and determined that they were fine,” he said.
“A situation like this would be extremely rare for this industry, for sure,” Woods said.
A trench has been dug around the perimeter of the spill to contain it, and measures to keep wildlife away include cannons and klaxons and fencing, he said.
“We’re not focusing on the cost but doing the right thing for the local community. We’re part of the community up there,” Woods said, estimating the company employs about 25 people in the Rainbow area.
“We’re Albertans so we care about this for sure ... We’re committed to doing this right.”
Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley is calling on the Alberta government to strengthen pipeline monitoring in response to what the NDP described as the third largest oil-spill in Canadian history.
“What has this PC government done since last year to make sure spills like this don’t happen?” Notley said.
“When we have old infrastructure, new operators, and industry self-monitoring, we have a recipe for environmental disasters across this province. This is not the way to establish international credibility on environmental management and sustainable development,” Notley said.