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Uncappable underground blowout spills thousands of barrels of tar sands oil in Cold Lake, Alberta

At the microphone, Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Cree First Nation of Canada, speaking against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, D.C. in February 2013. A spill on traditional Cree land in Alberta has yet to be brought under control.

Tar sands spills of bitumen—a dirty form of petroleum—at four locations in Alberta is no BFD, according to Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. The company says it’s managing the spills and cleaning up “bitumen emulsion” in Cold Lake at its Primrose South operation. But since the Calgary-based company has restricted access by media and others to the spill site, its claims are unverifiable.

Thanks to a leak by a government scientist that includes photos and a look at some documents, however, Emma Pullman and Martin Lukacs at the Toronto Star make company claims sound just a tad bogus:

The documents indicate that, since cleanup started in May, some 26,000 barrels of bitumen mixed with surface water have been removed, including more than 4,500 barrels of bitumen.The scientist said Canadian Natural Resources is not disclosing the scope of spills in four separate sites, which have been off bounds to media and the public because the operations are on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, where there is active weapons testing by the Canadian military. […] The documents and photos show dozens of animals, including beavers and loons, have died, and that 30,600 kg of oily vegetation has been cleared from the latest of the four spill zones.

The company says it’s sorry about the loss of wildlife, which it did not quantify—but is said to include frogs, beavers, shrews and waterfowl—noting that it is doing all it can to keep more fatalities from occurring. The Alberta Energy Regulator has ordered CNRL to cease operations within a kilometer of the lake.

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is the same tar sands petroleum whose primary means of extraction requires axing boreal forests and stripping away the soil covering the deposits. But the method used at Cold Lake—called high pressure cyclic steam stimulation—sucks bitumen out of the ground. This is supposed to be a greener approach. The super-hot steam is injected via wells and liquefies the bitumen. The pressure creates cracks that feed the flow of bitumen to pipes, allowing it to be brought to the surface.

But the problem is that such pressurized injections can force bitumen to surface outside the pipes. As long as the pressure remains, the spills continue. The injection technique is expected to be used for 40 percent by all Canadian tar sands operations by 2020.

You can read more about this mess below the fold.

The whistleblowing scientist, who requested anonymity to protect his job, said last week:

“Everybody (at the company and in government) is freaking out about this,” said the scientist. “We don’t understand what happened. Nobody really understands how to stop it from leaking, or if they do they haven’t put the measures into place.”

In fact, according to Keith Stewart, an energy analyst with Greenpeace and instructor of energy policy and environment at the University of Toronto, “This is a new kind of oil spill and there is no ‘off button.’ You can’t cap it like a conventional oil well or turn off a valve on a pipeline.”The spill is on the traditional lands of a First Nations tribe, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation. A member of the tribe, Crystal Lameman, a tar sands activist, says she did not learn of the leak before reading a government release. Since then she has found it tough to learn more:

“When they reported it they don’t even know how long it had been spilling for and we’re going on three weeks now and it is still spilling,” explains Lameman. “When you have an active weapons range where they’re doing active testing and you’re extracting bitumen that involves seismic monitoring, I don’t even know how those two things could ever go together. […]”We should have free access to [that land] as treaty status Indians and we have no access to it and we can’t trust what we’re being told now,” explains Lameman.

Yep. That’s definitely a problem when it comes to tar sands promoters.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Jul 23, 2013 at 11:22 AM PDT.


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