Three Weeks Later, Trilogy Admits Pipeline Spilled 250,000 Litres of Oil in Alberta Wetland

Oil rig

A Trilogy Energy pipeline leak has spilled an estimated 250,000 litres of oil emulsion, a mixture of oil and water, into an Alberta wetland near Fox Creek, according to the company.

Although the spill was first reported on October 6, neither Trilogy nor the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) released any information about its size until this week.

Trilogy initially reported the spill covered three hectares, the equivalent of 21 tennis courts in a remote wetland location some 15 kilometres outside Fox Creek.

Less than half of that is impacted by actual oil staining,” John Williams, president and chief operating officer of Trilogy, told DeSmog Canada in an interview Friday.

Williams said the spill volume estimate was based on aerial surveillance of the spill location as well as measurement on the ground of oil spread and depth.

Oil gets caught in the grass and water tends to flow down and separate,” Williams said.

We provided the AER with our best estimate and AER will validate our numbers based on how we got to that calculation,” he said.

That’s their indirect way of saying ‘that’s not our number, that’s Trilogy’s number, so if there’s a problem don’t get upset with us,’ “ Williams said.

An update published on Trilogy's website indicates the company is still working to confirm the volume of the spill. 

The AER recently initiated an investigation into the spill, something Williams said is simply due process.

We knew the enforcement action was coming,” he said. “That’s part and parcel with cleanup.”

We’re cooperating fully.”

According to the Alberta Energy Regulator the company’s leak detection system did not notify Trilogy of the spill. Instead inspectors doing a routine flyover spotted the leak from a helicopter, Williams said.

In July, the regulator requested pipeline operators to improve their leak detection systems after a review of 23 major pipeline spills found spill detection was unnecessarily delayed by poor training and a lack of monitoring.

On average it took pipeline operators 48 days to respond to and isolate leaking pipelines, the regulator found.

It is unknown when the spill from Trilogy’s remote pipeline began.

According to Williams, the company, in coordination with the AER, has shut in and excavated the portion of the pipeline responsible for the leak.

He said Trilogy has sent a two-metre section of the six-inch pipe to a laboratory in Edmonton for inspection.

“That is something that could take as long as a month” to review, Williams said.

He added that although he has seen pictures of the excavated pipe, he was unable to see the precise location of the leak.

When we excavated the pipe we wanted to make sure there was no catastrophic failure or underground explosion or anything like that,” he said.

It wasn’t spewing out, that’s for sure.”

Trilogy manages more than 1,000 kilometres of pipeline in Alberta, Williams said.

At 250,000 litres, or 1,573 barrels, the Trilogy pipeline spill is among the larger recent pipeline spills in Alberta.

In April 2011, nearly 4.5 million litres of crude oil spilled from a Plains Midstream pipeline into muskeg northeast of Peace River near the community of the Little Buffalo First Nation.

In June 2012, Plains Midstream spilled 461,000 litres of sour crude oil into the Red Deer River, a source of drinking water. The company was fined $1.3 million for violations of Alberta environmental laws in 2014.

Also in June 2012, an Enbridge pumping station spilled 230,000 litres of oil on a company site near Elk Lake.

In April of 2014, a Canadian Natural Resources Limited pipeline spilled 70,000 litres of oil and processed water into the surrounding environment at a remote location northwest of Slave Lake.

In November 2014, 60,000 litres of crude oil spilled into muskeg from another Canadian Natural Resources Limited pipeline.

One of the largest leaks in Alberta history occurred on July 2015 when a Nexen pipeline spilled 5 million litres of oil, water and sand emulsion from a pipeline at the Long Lake oilsands facility near Fort McMurray.

Image: Trilogy Energy