The clean-up of 1,000 to 3,000 barrels of light crude oil that leaked into the Red Deer River and Gleniffer Lake late last week could take months, say officials.
And Plains Midstream Canada is now saying they now believe the break occurred under the Red Deer River.
Originally the cmpany reported the leak occurred in Jackson Creek, which flows in to the Red Deer River.
The oil release was detected Thursday from Plains Midstream’s 12-inch Rangeland South Pipeline system.
Stephen Bart, vice-president of crude oil operations for Plains Midstream Canada, told media at the Dickson Dam on Tuesday afternoon that crews installed plugs on the pipeline on Saturday in order to limit the possibility of any further oil leakage.
“With containment in place our emphasis had larger turned to clean-up and consultation with land owners,” he said.
“Of course everyone, including ourselves, would like things to progress as quickly as possible but we have over 180 people on site today.”
The cost of the clean-up or the maintenance and the inspection frequencies was something Bart declined to comment on, reiterating that the company’s focus is on containment, clean-up and landowner communication.
The exact location or the cause of the leak is still undetermined. “We believe it is underneath the (Red Deer) river but until we get a chance to remove the residual oil in the segment of pipe that we have been able to isolate, and remove the pipe, we won’t know for certain until then,” Bart said.
There are about 25 isolated pockets of crude oil along the Red Deer river shoreline. Bart says they hope to build a vacuum station on the east side of the river to draw residual oil. It will take them three or four days to build the vacuum facility and about a day or two to remove the oil.
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood had a bird’s eye view from a helicopter of the clean-up efforts on Monday morning.
“It sounds like this is not a fast process . . . I asked, days, weeks, months, years and tried to pin them down on it and it sounds like it is a process of months,” Wood said Tuesday.
“I actually had a conversation with the president of the oil company regarding what is happening. It sounds like the new pipelines that are going in are being put in place much deeper than the old ones and it sounds like there are processes of continuously monitoring these lines and recognizing that there is always some risk involved when we have oil and gas travelling through our ground.”
Martin Bundred, consequence manager for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, says they are working on what is a “difficult” riparian habitat. He says oil was caught in little pockets and eddies along the river just north of Sundre.
“It is difficult to access some of these areas because of the high flow and the rapid current. It is a dangerous situation to be on the river right now,” he said.
Multiple concerns have been voiced regarding the impact on wildlife. Bart said as of Tuesday he was only aware of one confirmed report of a goose that came in contact with oil.
“It was taken to a wildlife treatment centre and was treated and released,” he said, adding that there are 12 wildlife experts and three biologists on site. He says officials have an array of deterrents that are keeping wildlife away from the spill.
But Carol Kelly, executive director of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre — a facility 15 minutes west of the spill site — says a one-week old baby beaver was the first to come to the centre. The kit was found on Friday, close to the original spill site, north of Sundre.
“He was scared and totally covered in oil from head to toe,” Kelly said.
“We washed him off and he cleaned up really nicely.”
Kelly says the centre treated the beaver for stress and flushed him with fluids in case he swallowed oil. The beaver is now living with two other baby beavers at the centre and is expected to make a full recovery. Kelly says they would like to return the kit back to the river but have not been informed on when they may do that.
Despite Kelly’s first encounter with an oil-covered beaver, she says that Plains has done a “decent job” keeping wildlife away from the spill.
“We don’t anticipate great numbers coming in. Our first call about the beaver came on Friday and as time went on we are not getting calls so that is encouraging,” she said.
Monitoring activities are also ongoing relative to air and water quality, Bart said.
“We have been monitoring twice daily at 18 locations along the river, the reservoir and downstream of the dam. With the exception of one reading on the first day all of those readings have been well-within Alberta guidelines for drinking water.
“As well since the very first day of the incident we have had air monitoring equipment at three locations and there have been no incidences of any exceedants from air quality perspectives.”
Randy Westergaard, development and property manager at the Gleniffer Lake Resort and County Club, says they are operating normally with fresh water that has been topped up by Plains.
“In one respect we are kind of fortunate because we are downstream of where this happened,” he said.
Westergaard says the marina is not operational until the later part of June but says they may run into “inconveniences” in three to four weeks.
“We want to assure residents and landowners that we are going to do the right thing and address the impacts of this release with them,” Bart assured. “To the extent that we have impacted residents, we plan on making it right.”
Plains operates over 5,000 kms of pipeline systems in Western Canada and about a fifth of the crude oil that is produced goes through the systems on a daily basis.