Nexen Energy oil spill prompts alarm

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - BY IAN BICKIS THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Nexen Energy said Wed­nes­day it can nar­row down when a pipeline rup­tured in north­ern Al­berta to a two-week pe­riod, some­thing that one en­vi­ron­men­tal group said is cause for alarm.

Ron Bai­ley, the com­pany's se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of Cana­dian oper­a­tions, said of­fi­cials still don't know pre­cisely when the pipeline be­gan leak­ing af­ter a five mil­lion litre spill was dis­cov­ered last Wed­nes­day in An­zac, about 35 kilo­me­tres south­east of Fort McMur­ray.

But Bai­ley said the com­pany be­lieves the leak be­gan some time be­tween June 29, when crews fin­ished a clean­ing, and July 15, when a con­trac­tor dis­cov­ered it near Nexen Energy's Long Lake oil­sands fa­cil­ity.

Mike Hudema of Green­peace Canada's cli­mate and energy team said it is stun­ning that the spill may have gone un­de­tected for as long as that.

“It's shock­ing to learn that the pipeline may have been spilling for two weeks be­fore it was dis­cov­ered - and even then, only by ac­ci­dent,” said Hudema in a state­ment.

“Warn­ing bells should be go­ing off for Canada's pre­miers right now about the dan­gers they are bring­ing to their com­mu­ni­ties if new pipe­lines are built be­cause that's what they're call­ing for with the Cana­dian Energy Strat­egy.”

Nexen Energy hosted a tour for news media Wed­nes­day of the site of the spill, which left 16,000 square me­tres of muskeg slathered in bi­tu­men, sand and pro­duced wa­ter. The site has been fenced off as cleanup ef­forts con­tinue and plas­tic ea­gles have been set up to de­ter wildlife from the area.

On Sun­day, a dead duck was found at the spill site, but the com­pany said it be­lieves the an­i­mal died be­fore it put the fences, wildlife can­nons and other de­ter­rents in place in an ef­fort to limit fur­ther en­vi­ron­men­tal harm.

“It's dis­heart­en­ing to see the site and it's dis­ap­point­ing that this has hap­pened,” Nexen Energy CEO Fang Zhi said af­ter host­ing the media tour. “I there­fore per­son­ally apol­o­gize for the con­se­quences this might have caused.”

The pipeline was in­stalled last year and a warn­ing sys­tem didn't de­tect the leak. The com­pany is in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

“Our fo­cus as of now is en­sur­ing the safety of our work­ers on the site, min­i­miz­ing what­ever im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment and on the wildlife, as well as un­der­stand­ing the root causes of this in­ci­dent through in­ves­ti­ga­tions,” Zhi said.

The dou­ble-walled pipeline is de­signed to take raw bi­tu­men from the ground to the Long Lake pro­cess­ing plant. The pipeline op­er­ated at 100 de­grees Cel­sius to keep the thick bi­tu­men it car­ried fluid.

Colin Woods, a man­ager of en­force­ment and sur­veil­lance at the Al­berta Energy Reg­u­la­tor who was at the site, said the pipeline de­sign is fairly new.

“It's a rel­a­tively new tech­nol­ogy,” said Woods. “It's not com­monly used.”

Bai­ley said it will take months be­fore the com­pany can de­ter­mine what caused the leak. He said the outer sec­tion of the pipe had a smaller hole than orig­i­nally thought, but the com­pany has not been able to look at the in­ner pipe.

Bai­ley said he also doesn't know how long the cleanup will take since their long-term re­me­di­a­tion still has to be ap­proved by the Al­berta Energy Reg­u­la­tor.

CP PHOTO

Fang Zhi, cen­tre, Nexen Energy CEO, looks on as crews work to con­tain and clean up a pipeline spill at Nexen Energy’s Long Lake fa­cil­ity near Fort McMur­ray, Alta., Wed­nes­day.

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