Massive oil spill in north

Emergency crews were cleaning up a massive oil spill from a broken pipeline in northern Alberta Tuesday as regulators disclosed the leak was much larger than originally thought. Energy regulators said 28,000 barrels of oil has oozed into the soil and collected into pools along hundreds of metres of the pipeline’s path northeast of Peace River. Initial estimates put the leak at several hundred barrels.

Emergency crews were cleaning up a massive oil spill from a broken pipeline in northern Alberta Tuesday as regulators disclosed the leak was much larger than originally thought.

Energy regulators said 28,000 barrels of oil has oozed into the soil and collected into pools along hundreds of metres of the pipeline’s path northeast of Peace River. Initial estimates put the leak at several hundred barrels.

“It is a very large spill,” said Davis Sheremata from the Energy Resources Conservation Board. “It’s a very large amount of oil.”

The leak in Plains Midstream Canada’s 44-year-old Rainbow pipeline was discovered Friday at about 7:30 a.m. The pipeline, which runs 772 km from the Norman Wells pipeline in Zama, Alta., to Edmonton, was shut down and both ends sealed off.

Sheremata said the spill is seven kilometres from the nearest home and monitoring has shown air contaminants to be within guidelines. Although much of the oil is pooling in a stagnant pond at one end of the site, the crude remains 300 metres from any runoff or flowing water.

There were no injuries or health threats resulting from the spill, Sheremata said.

The board released news of the leak on Friday, but Sheremata said it didn’t know the extent of the mess until now.

“What you’re looking at is a long stretch of soil that has been soaked with crude oil,” he said.

“You have to figure out how deep it goes and do a calculation of how much oil that might be. We wanted to make sure we had a reliable number to go out to people. It’s taken a few days.”

“Most of (the oil) is contained within a right-of-way which is about 30 metres wide. But it extends for hundreds of metres along the pipeline right-of-way, and then you’ve got it running off into a bit of a wet area with stagnant water and it’s collected there.

“It’s contained, it’s not going off site, but it’s going to take quite a bit of time to vacuum up any standing oil, excavate the soil and get that site cleaned up. It’s certainly going to take weeks.”

The volume of oil released is about seven times the amount that went into Lake Wabamun west of Edmonton after a 2005 CN Rail spill. That spill shut the popular recreational lake down for most of a summer, although it contained chemicals as well as oil.

Sheremata said investigators were digging out the pipe to get their first look at the hole that caused the spill. Early indications were it was a large break, he said.

The pipeline was built in 1965 and has a capacity of 220,000 barrels a day. Average daily volumes were 187,000 barrels a day during 2010.

Regulators are investigating how the leak occurred. Enforcement action will result if regulations weren’t followed, Sheremata promised.

In 2009, Alberta hit a low for pipeline failures of 1.7 leaks for every 1,000 kilometres of pipe. Alberta has more than 377,000 kilometres of pipeline.