Leaking pipeline soaks field

Another environmental cleanup is underway in Central Alberta after nearly 2,000 barrels of mostly contaminated water from a leaking pipeline soaked a canola field east of Red Deer.

Another environmental cleanup is underway in Central Alberta after nearly 2,000 barrels of mostly contaminated water from a leaking pipeline soaked a canola field east of Red Deer.

The Energy Resources Conservation Board revealed on Wednesday that it’s investigating the latest pipeline break after about 1,900 barrels (or 300,000 litres) were released from a Penn West Exploration line on Tuesday onto private farmland about 10 km east of Red Deer, near Joffre.

According to ERCB spokesman Darin Barter, about 97 per cent of this spill is contaminated water, while three percent is oil. But Penn West’s manager of government and industry relations, Greg Moffatt, believes there’s hardly any oil in the spill; “It’s 99.9 per cent water.”

The water could contain some hydrocarbon contamination, however, as it was naturally present in an oil formation and was being moved along the pipeline in order to be disposed of, said Moffatt. The tainted water was slated to be reinjected into a non-producing well.

Moffatt maintains the leaked liquid was tested and found not to be too saline. But the full extent of environmental damage hasn’t yet been assessed.

Unlike a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline break in June that allowed up to 3,000 barrels of oil to leak into the Red Deer River, this spill is not near water sources. Barter said a nearby slough is being protected with berms.

Penn West, which had up to 20 contractors working with vacuum trucks at the site on Wednesday, intends to use whatever measures are necessary to reclaim the farmland. Moffatt said, “We’ll remove some soil if that’s what’s needed to return the canola field to production.”

Penn West notified the ERCB on Tuesday about the spill. But investigators still have to determine how it happened and the age and condition of the pipeline.

Moffatt said Penn West inspects pipelines on a “reasonably regular basis,” and is interested in finding out how the leak occurred to determine whether any additional processes can be put in place.

The Calgary-based company turned off flow to the line after discovering a drop in pressure on Tuesday afternoon.

When a helicopter survey didn’t pinpoint the leak, workers walked the line and discovered the spill on Tuesday evening, added Moffatt.

There were no injuries or evacuations. And Barter said the ERCB is working with Penn West to ensure appropriate cleanup and mitigation takes place.

This is the latest in a series of pipeline spills this year. Earlier this summer, about 230,000 litres of heavy crude oil spilled from a pumping station on an Enbridge Inc. pipeline onto farmland near Elk Point, Alta., northeast of Edmonton.

Before that, nearly 800,000 litres of oil spilled from a Pace Oil & Gas Ltd. well about 200 kms from the Northwest Territories border.

The Plains Midstream Canada break in June involved 160,000 to 480,000 litres of oil leaking from a pipeline that ruptured beneath the Red Deer River near Sundre.

Environmental groups are calling for an expansive look at pipeline safety in Alberta.

But Barter called so many pipeline problems “an anomaly . . . It’s not typical.”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com