Northern Alberta is currently coping with their largest oil leak in over 30 years. Over 28,000 barrels (4 million litres) of oil leaked from a pipeline near Little Buffalo last weekend. The Rainbow Pipeline originates at Rainbow Lake, Alberta and runs south to Edmonton, Alberta. It carries approximately 187,000 barrels of oil per day. The leak was discovered Friday, after Plains Midstream Canada (the company that owns the pipeline) discovered the pressure in the pipeline was lower than normal. The spill was stopped that day, but the exact volume of oil spilled was not released until today — and not by the company.
The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) released the data, stating it took several days for crews to reach the remote, heavily forested area and fully assess the damage. The spill has spread along the path of the pipeline, but remained away from flowing water or runoff.
Meanwhile, a nearby First Nations community is dealing with widespread sickness they say is due to the leak. Lubicon Cree residents of Little Buffalo, 30 km away from the leak site, say there has been a strong odor in the area and people have experienced nausea, burning eyes and headaches since the leak began. The community has closed the school and told children to stay home for the time being. The ERCB, however, says there’s no way the illnesses could be caused by the leak because it’s “too far away” and that any issues must be due to other reasons. A community meeting with the ERCB planned for Tuesday evening was canceled, with the ERCB sending the community a “fact sheet” about the spill instead.
Several beavers and birds had to be euthanized by crews because of the oil. Long-term environmental impact is still unknown, but the spill is expected to take several weeks to be fully cleaned.
This is the second leak on the Rainbow pipeline in recent years. 7,500 barrels spilled from the pipeline in 2006. At that time, stress and wear and tear was determined to have caused the leak and owners of the pipeline were ordered to lower the system’s pressure, increase ground surveillance and conduct internal line inspections.
Despite the new leak, it’s doubtful any fines will be issued; the worst fate Plains Midstream should expect is increased inspections, and Alberta is a very friendly home for the Oil industry.
Photo credit: Arthur Chapman on Flickr.