Oily river spoils gold panning operation

Gary May would rather have seen the sheen of gold in his panning equipment, not the sheen of oil.

Gold panner Gary May shows oil residue on his pan and sluice after panning in the Red Deer Rive near Innisfail Tuesday.

Gary May would rather have seen the sheen of gold in his panning equipment, not the sheen of oil.

The avid gold panner was testing his luck on the quiet shoreline of the Red Deer River near the Innisfail bridge about four km west of the Town of Innisfail on Monday when his sluice box became coated with oil, with the potent smell of crude.

May, 67, has been mining for gold in the area for about 11 years and was none too pleased about what covered his equipment that is used to trap heavier gold particles.

He was using his equipment along the shoreline, about 1.5 metres from the water’s edge.

“I said to my friend, ‘What the heck is in my box? It’s a bunch of grease’ and he said, ‘That’s not grease, that’s oil.’ ”

The sight of the oil has concerned May so much that he has vowed not to drink the City of Red Deer’s water, which comes from the Red Deer River.

“I’m not drinking it. I will drink bottled water,” he said.

May is also disappointed about the fact that he will be unable to mine for gold in the area, explaining that oil makes gold float.

“I won’t be able to retain the gold in my equipment. I am not very happy,” he said.

On June 7, up to 3,000 barrels (475,000 litres) of light sour crude oil was released into the Red Deer River from Plains Midstream Canada pipeline about one km north of Sundre.

May can’t confirm if the oil he found in his equipment was in fact related to the spill but can’t see another logical option.

“What is it doing there?” he questions.

While City of Red Deer environment services manager Tom Warder understands the concern surrounding drinking water, he said that samples from the water treatment plants, at the intake and distribution system, never exceeded drinking water standards.

He said if there was a risk, the plant would be shut down.

“If there is a time where a heavy concentration of oil came past the intake, we would shut down the intake and use the supplies in our reservoirs to feed the city,” he said.

On Aug. 3, Plains Midstream Canada reported having 290 personnel on site to maintain booms, cut and bag oily vegetation, pick up shoreline debris, flush log jams, skim oil, replace absorbent pads and hand wash rocks.

The Advocate was unable to reach Plains Midstream Canada for comment.


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