Few details are available eleven days after a leak of “produced water” from a pipeline approximately 150 kilometers northwest of High Level Alberta.
Oil and gas exploration and production company Apache Corp. discovered the leak in their pipeline about 20 km north of Zama City during an airplane flyover and reported it to Alberta Environment on June 1st.
An updated press release from the company says that the water was spilled after the oil and gas had been removed. “The cause and volume of the spill remain under investigation.”
Greenpeace Canada Climate and Energy Campaigner Mike Hudema sees this delay in releasing detailed information as unacceptable. He points out that if it was spotted by airplane, the spill must be quite large, but says that representatives from Alberta Environment refuse even to estimate the size of the affected area. They also haven’t released photos.
“We’re eleven days after this event ended, apparently, and we still have no information from the province,” he says. “We don’t know how big the spill was. We don’t know how large the area was. We don’t know what chemicals were in the pipe. We don’t know how long the spill lasted. These are all details that should be easy to ascertain fairly quickly, and they’re still answers that the provincial government simply doesn’t know or won’t release.”
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development spokesperson Jessica Potter says that although the agency has staff on the scene, the delay in the release of information is due to on-going assessments.
“The company did initiate protective actions such as blocking culvert drainage to restrict further movement of the affected water,” she says. “There’s ongoing monitoring of wetlands and water monitoring near the break.”
Oil and gas leaks have become commonplace occurrences amongst Alberta’s vast network on oil and gas pipelines. Last year Global News reported “28,666 crude oil spills in total, plus another 31,453 spills of just about any other substance you can think of putting in a pipeline—from salt water to liquid petroleum.”
The Zama City leak is not far from Rainbow Lake, which suffered a spill of 22,000 barrels of oil in May 2012.
In June 2012 a spill of more than 3000 of barrels of crude oil from a Plains Midstream pipeline sent residents near Red Deer, Alberta running from toxic fumes. The spill triggered a government safety report. Although it was completed in December, the public has yet to see the technical details, making promise of a public consultation process seem unlikely.
Earlier this year, a Suncor leak plant dumped 350,000 litres of wastewater into the Athabasca River over ten hours. At the time, a group including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Council of Canadians, First Nations, and Forest Ethics Advocacy sent a letter to Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen demanding an immediate release of information about the leak, including photos.
This most recent spill's location makes independent observations difficult to carry out, but that doesn’t mitigate the environmental consequences. Though sparsely populated, the area surrounding Zama City is a marshy wetland that is a key habitat to many species of waterfowl. It also houses a number of wild bison.
Hudema connects the government’s lack of transparency in these situations to an ongoing “culture of silence” on the part of the province of Alberta when it comes to environmental issues.
“People deserve quick and truthful answers,” he says. “Who is the energy regulator trying to protect? Is the energy regulator trying to protect these companies? Or is the energy regulator trying to protect the communities and the environment?”
He questions whether their silence may relate to the ongoing debate about the Keystone XL pipeline, which has drawn international attention to the province’s oil and gas industry. “Is the public not getting the answers it deserves because the government is more interested in public relations than protecting the public and the environment?”