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A massive oil spill caused from a pipeline leak is threatening water supplies at a popular resort lake 30 km southwest of Innisfail.
Emergency crews started mopping up the spill on Gleniffer Lake on Monday after 75 to 125 barrels of sweet crude oil escaped from a pipeline five km north of Sundre.
Pembina Pipeline Corporation of Calgary, which owns the pipeline located near a crossing of the Red Deer River, discovered the leak about 9 p.m. on Sunday.
A Sundre crew isolated the leak and stopped the flow an hour later.
Hours later, an oil sheen was detected on Gleniffer Lake, nearly 35 km downstream.
Standing near the shores of Carefree Resort where an emergency response centre was set up, Pembina Pipeline district superintendent Sandy Buchan described the situation as “major.”
“Anytime you are putting oil into the river and you are affecting people’s drinking water, you need to take it very seriously,” Buchan said.
Pembina staff is working with the David Thompson Health Region on informing area residents of any potential water impacts.
Lab samples are being taken from the river and the man-made lake.
City of Red Deer’s environmental services manager Tom Marstaller was assured the municipal water supply hasn’t been affected.
“(Alberta Environment) informed us there’s no immediate health risk and they are keeping us apprised of the current situation,” said Marstaller.
Water was temporarily shut off at Gleniffer Lake Resort and Carefree Resort, but then turned back on Monday afternoon.
Carefree Resort residents Murray McCandless and Dave Jensen, both members of the resort’s safety committee, knocked on about 40 homes to let people know why their water wasn’t on.
Residents are now accessing treated water from the reservoir, but once it runs out further supplies will be trucked in at Pembina’s cost. Alberta Environment is working closely with Pembina to ensure necessary steps are being taken with the cleanup.
Department spokeswoman Cheryl Robb described the Central Alberta oil spill as “serious”, but about 20 times smaller than the Lake Wabamum spill of 2005.
In that case, millions of litres of oil and wood preservative landed in the lake west of Edmonton, and more than 200 oil-slicked birds had to be rescued.
Pembina staff flew over the Red Deer River and Gleniffer Lake to assess immediate damages.
Buchan said they didn’t see any “negative impacts” to wildlife, but the situation will be monitored. Gleniffer Lake is stocked with fish.
Carol Kelly, executive director of Medicine River Wildlife Centre, was already on her way to Gleniffer Lake to help a pelican caught on a fishing line when she heard about the spill.
So far no oiled wildlife had been reported and cannons were being deployed near the slick to keep birds away.
“As it stands right now the slick is fairly thin and it’s on the top of the water,” Kelly said. “Everyone is on this quickly so it sounds good so far.”
Buchan said the cleanup is expected to take weeks and will cost the company “thousands” of dollars.
He said “very little oil” had been collected as of mid-Monday afternoon, since the oil is stretched out across the lake.
Booms are being dragged out onto the lake and then the oil is corralled and brought in for collection.
“A lot of it is in the debris. The oil sticks to it,” said Buchan, standing next to a squared off area where some oil-slicked wood is piled.
Buchan said the crews don’t expect to work around the clock, but more crews will be brought in today.
About 25 people were helping on Monday.
He further expected it will take some time to find out what caused the pipeline leak.
The channel of the Red Deer River had changed, so it was now running over the pipeline.
“The water is going so violently over the pipe we can’t get down there to see what is going on,” he said. “We have to wait until the river recedes.”
Recreational boating has been banned from the lake.
McCandless said the boat launch at Carefree Resort was to open this weekend.
Jim Rasmussen, supervisor of environmental operations at Gleniffer Lake Resort, said he spotted a little oil slick on the lake near the resort early Monday that reminded him of the oil slicks he sees at night after a day with 100 boats flying around on the water.
“It wasn’t any worse than that so I think it’s a pretty minor spill,” Rasmussen said.
The resort can attract about 2,000 on a busy summer weekend. On Monday, he guessed there were about 200 to 300 people.
Rasmussen was impressed by how quickly the oil slick was contained.
A number of government agencies were on site — including Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Alberta Environment and Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
About a dozen people continued to fish at a trout pond near the Dickson Point boat launch on the lake’s southwest side.
Larry Whitford of Sylvan Lake said he saw aircraft flying overhead and wondered what the fuss was all about.
“They should be letting everyone know about this,” Whitford said.
He figured that the stocked trout pond should be free of contaminants since it’s fed by another water body.
Contact Laura Tester at email@example.com