More contamination revealed at spill site near Red Deer

Contaminated water that flooded a canola field east of Red Deer after a pipeline leak was found to have more salt content than originally reported.

Contaminated water that flooded a canola field east of Red Deer after a pipeline leak was found to have more salt content than originally reported.

Greg Moffatt, Penn West Exploration’s manager of government and industry relations, said he was initially provided with information that inaccurately put the water’s salt level at 1,500 to 2,000 parts per million.

Moffatt later received results from tests done on water inside the pipeline in early August that showed a salinity of 3,200 parts per million, “which is more chloride than we originally thought.”

This higher salt content jived with field testing completed this week on the spilled water from the Penn West pipeline.

Moffatt said the latest results also showed very low traces of hydrocarbons in the water that was pulled up from the ground along with oil, then separated and piped for disposal.

The higher salt level is a concern, said Darin Barter, spokesman for the Energy Resources Conservation Board. “That goes in line with what I previously said, which is that production water is something you don’t want to have outside of a pipeline.”

According to Alberta Environment spokesperson Jessica Potter, there’s no provincial standard for when salty water becomes an environmental hazard. The goal is to always clean up a spill as quickly as possible and remediate the soil to its original condition, she said.

Alberta Environment is following the progress of the Penn West pipeline cleanup through information provided by investigators with the Energy Resources Conservation Board. The department intends to get more involved at the soil remediation stage, said Potter.

The cleanup began late on Tuesday after an estimated 300,000 litres of contaminated water leaked from the Calgary-based company’s pipeline onto farmland about 10 km east of Red Deer, near Joffre.

Penn West intends to compensate the farmer who owns the canola field for lost production. No timeline has been established for when the soil can be remediated, but Moffatt said the farmer will receive compensation for as long as crops can’t be grown on the site.

Cleanup crews were still working at the site on Friday. Moffatt said the spill’s 6,000-square-metre surface area had been contained with berms. Contractors had also dug some holes in low-lying areas to channel the remaining water into pools so vacuum trucks could pick up as much as possible. And soil samples were being collected for testing.

Moffatt said the cause of the pipeline leak could become known as early as this weekend. He said digging will be started to expose the pipeline as soon as remaining water is cleaned up by vacuum trucks. This could happen by today.

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