Oil, oil everywhere… Third Alberta spill in a month

This is not the kind of publicity the oil industry is looking for. Today we learned of yet another major oil spill to hit Alberta—the third in a month, and the latest in a string of major spills over a particularly prolific year.

Yesterday, June 18, nearly 1,450 barrels (230,000 litres) of heavy crude oil spilled from a pumping station on Enbridge’s Athabasca pipeline. The Athabasca is a major pipeline bringing oil directly out of Fort McMurray to Hardisty, the primary crude oil hub in western Canada.

There have, of course, been two other major spills recently. On May 19, a spill from an injection well sent 5,000 barrels (800,000 litres) of light oil into a muskeg in northern Alberta. The spill went undetected for several days before someone spotted it from a plane.

On June 7, another pipeline spill near Sundre, Alberta, sent 1,000 to 3,000 barrels (160,000 to 475,000 litres) of light sour crude oil into a tributary of the Red Deer River, upstream from the city of Red Deer’s water reservoir. The company, Plains Midstream, did not detect the spill itself. High water levels from a spring of heavy rains have complicated the cleanup, which could take all summer. Plains Midstream is still cleaning up an April 29, 2011, spill of 28,000 barrels (4.5 million litres) of oil in northern Alberta—one of the largest in Alberta’s history.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford called oil spills like the one near Sundre “an exception.” To test her theory, have a look at this map of recent major spills in Alberta.

It’s worth noting that earlier this month the Conservatives sacked one of Canada’s most respected oil spill experts—Kenneth Lee—whose position with the federal government will be eliminated, along with the research centre of which he was executive director.

All of this is particularly unsettling in light of today’s passing of the Conservative’s omnibus budget (Bill C-38), which will fast-track pipeline projects, greatly reduce environmental reviews and parliamentary scrutiny of pipeline projects, and exempt pipelines from the Navigable Waters Protection Act, thus removing protection of the majority of Canadian freshwater fish habitat (including that of around 80% of the fish at risk of extinction in Canada). All of these measures are especially welcome for proponents of the proposed Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which would take oil sands crude oil through British Columbia to the Pacific coast, cutting through sensitive northern environments and First Nations land.

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