A 3,000-barrel oil leak into the Red Deer River on Thursday had an energy company scrambling on Friday to contain it and trying to explain what happened.
Plains Midstream Canada was also bringing bottled water in to the Gleniffer Lake area should resorts need it.
The City of Red Deer is monitoring the situation but as of Friday evening the city’s water system was unaffected.
More than 100 energy workers, cleanup crew members and energy regulators were at the lake where up to 3,000 barrels of light crude oil leaked into Jackson Creek, which runs into the Red Deer River a few kilometres north of Sundre, upstream of the Gleniffer Lake reservoir. Gleniffer Lake is about 50 kms from Sundre by road.
Plains Midstream Canada crude oil operations vice-president Stephen Bart addressed gathering media near an onsite command centre at the Cottonwood Community Centre about a half a kilometre east of Gleniffer Lake on Friday afternoon.
“As a contingency measure, drinking water has been brought in for the local resort operators,” he said.
Plains Midstream was notified of the spill at 9:40 p.m. on Thursday.
They continue to contain the spill from their 12-inch Rangeland South Pipeline system near Sundre, which is in close proximity to the Red Deer River. Bart says the exact location of the leak in the pipeline, built in 1966, has not been determined. Emergency response specialists and equipment including skimmers, response trailers and boats were being set up at the south side of Gleniffer Lake.
“Our focus has been containing the spill downstream and we are now trying to mobilize forces at the spill site to isolate the section,” Bart said.
The pipeline flows south of the Plains Midstream Sundre station and it operates intermittently.
“It might flow one day and sit dormant for a couple days and flow again, really depending on the demand,” Bart explained.
The pipeline was sitting dormant at the time of the leak, which “minimized the consequences of the event,” Bart said.
“At this point in time we don’t believe that the release poses any potential threat to both water quality or residents so we will continue to monitor that situation. If that situation changes of course we would response accordingly.”
Bart said is was impossible to speculate what caused the leak and that they were focusing on a speedy response. The release of the oil was detected by Plains Midstream Sundre station’s control centre, which took steps to isolate the affected section.
“Another party reported it to us but by that point in time we had already isolated the pipeline,” Bart said.
Plains Midstream said it is working closely with Alberta Health Services, the Energy Resources Conservation Board and Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources to clean up the spill and monitor local air and water quality.
Media were being prevented from accessing the lake area where the spill had flowed; however, an oily residue with a strong petroleum odour was noted on the south side of the lake.
This isn’t the first oil spill Plains Midstream Canada has had to clean up. On April 29, 2011, the company responded to a 28,000 barrel leak northeast of the Peace River — one of the largest spills in Alberta’s history.
Chris Huhn, a farmer who lives north of Sundre, said he was travelling over the Garrington Bridge on Hwy 587 over the Red Deer River about 11:15 p.m. Thursday.
“There was a strong petrochemical smell and I didn’t think too much of it but when I got home I still smelled it,” he said.
“So I called the ERCB emergency line and reported it and they said, ‘We have a spill in the Red Deer River.’”
Huhn went to the Gleniffer Lake on Friday morning to investigate.
“There is that thick oily sheen, which is really a terrible thing to see,” he said. “Any oil could have made it over the dam into the Red Deer River and downstream to the City of Red Deer, which really concerns me. I can’t believe that large accidents like this happen.”
Retired oilfield engineer Don Bester, president of the Alberta Surface Rights Group, said he was given reports early Friday morning that a substance smelling of oilfield condensate had flowed downriver and into the lake.
Helicopters and cleanup equipment could be seen Friday morning in the same area in which a spill was reported earlier this year during a fracking operation, when fluids from a well bore entered a neighbouring oilwell.
Rob Swartz, a member of the surface rights group, said he saw the slick near the Garrington Bridge.
“We’ve been predicting this sort of thing for a long time,” he said. “With the aging infrastructure here, it’s quite a mess.”
Another group member, Glenn Norman, blamed regulators. “There’s such a lack of regulation and consequences when companies do these things they send a letter that it won’t happen again, and that’s basically the consequence.”
The City of Red Deer said no action is required by residents at this time.
Premier Alison Redford issued a statement Friday afternoon in response to the Plains Midstream leak.
“I want to assure residents living along the Red Deer River and Gleniffer Lake areas that all necessary resources are being deployed to contain the leak and clean it up. Minimizing the environmental impact and ensuring the health and safety of Albertans is our priority.
“Many questions will be asked over the coming days about Alberta’s pipeline infrastructure. Let me be clear, Alberta has an internationally recognized pipeline system supported by a strong regulatory framework. Together they serve as a model for other jurisdictions. This incident will be investigated and the Ministers of Energy and Environment and Sustainable Resource Development will review the findings and take further action if required,” Redford said.