A swarm of workers hustle and bustle along the Red Deer River shoreline to clean up oil residue as fall approaches.
Over the past two weeks, 270 workers from approximately 20 different companies have been working at various sites along the Red Deer River.
They are trying to clean up the mess that resulted in 3,000 barrels (475,000 litres) of light sour crude oil being released from a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline about one km north of Sundre earlier in June, said Mountain View County Councillor Paddy Munro.
“The workers along the river bank, you can tell they are just people working at a job and trying to do the best they can,” he said.
While some local businesses have been hurt by the spill, there also have been short-term economic spinoffs for other local people and businesses in the area.
Marty Butts, who grew up in the area, said he can see both sides of the equation. He feels for the landowners and businesses that have suffered from the spill, but also says that Plaines Midstream Canada has spent a lot of money contracting out services needed for the cleanup.
“Some businesses benefited hugely and others have lost hugely,” he said.
“But there are a lot of people out there, a lot of young people with first-time jobs helping to put this back to the original state.”
Butts is one of many workers who decided to help with the cleanup in what he calls, his “backyard.” He said Plains was short on boat operators and he has been shuttling crews and equipment to sites along the river since the spill.
“Being from the area, and knowing the river and owning a jet boat, I stepped up.”
He said his employer, Husky Energy, allowed him to take a month off closer to the time of the spill to donate time for the cleanup. More recently, he lends a hand on the river on his days off.
In an information update, Plains reports that the workers continue to maintain the integrity of the booms on the reservoir, cut and bag oily vegetation, pick up shoreline debris, flush log jams, replace absorbent pads and hand wash rocks.
Helicopters are also being used to remove the debris collected by the workers. Over one week, 200 bags of debris were removed from the shoreline and approximately 210,740 work-hours have supported the response and cleanup.
The Advocate contacted Plains Midstream Canada on Tuesday and Wednesday for comment about its work and was ultimately told that a spokesperson wouldn’t be available until next week.
Local oilfield construction companies have also been working at the pipeline release site. A segment of the pipe has been removed from the west side of the river and has been signed over to Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, the Plains update states.
“They drew from a lot of companies,” Butts said.
“They are doing a heck of a job and are not cutting any corners from what I can see.”
Contact was made with Tervita Environmental Services and Waste Management, an environmental and energy services company working on site, but the Advocate was later told by Tervita communications personnel that Plains Midstream Canada would like all further media inquiries to go through them.
Also contributing to the frenzy along the shoreline, of course, is the presence of regulatory agencies such as Alberta Environment and the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB).
According to Plains’ update, cleanup has been completed at approximately half of the river sites and it will work with Alberta Environment to ensure environmental standards.
Jessica Potter, spokesperson for Alberta Environment, said the agency will complete the assessments of about a dozen cleanup sites this week. She said the assessments are site-specific.
“That could mean no visible sheen, no viscus oil on debris and in the river,” she said.
The sites are taken case-by-case because sometimes the impact of removing oil in areas could be worse for the environment than leaving it to biodegrade, she said.
Alberta Environment officials hope to have all the sites they have established inspected before fall freeze up.
Meanwhile, the ERCB is monitoring waste removal and the removal of the 46-year-old pipe.
Whether it be from multiple companies contributing with cleanup and pipe removal, or regulatory agencies with different approaches and standards, the undertaking is massive.
And this shows that a spill of this kind just can’t happen again, said Mountain View County reeve Bruce Beattie.
“This activity is pretty significant,” he said.
Plains estimated in an Aug. 9 Plains All American quarterly report that it will spend upwards of $53 million with cleanup and remediation.