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CNRL oil spill points to Alberta’s aging pipeline infrastructure

Red Earth Creek, Alberta.There has been another pipeline spill in Alberta. A Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) pipeline has ruptured about 250 kilometres west of Fort McMurray. Initial reports say that about 60,000 litres (about 377 barrels) of crude oil has spilled. The cause was reportedly mechanical failure. The crude oil spilled into a 100 metre by 20 metre area of muskeg (a bog or low-lying marsh with a water table near the surface) about 27 kilometres north of the small town of Red Earth Creek.

The Canadian Press reports, “Carrie Rosa, a spokeswoman for the [Alberta Energy Regulator], says officials have been delayed reaching the scene due to poor weather in the last few days” while also noting that “a cleanup has begun” and that “there are no reports of impacts to wildlife”.

Just eight months ago, Canadian Natural Resources was in the news because of another pipeline rupture, that time northwest of Slave Lake. That rupture released 70,000 litres (about 440 barrels) of oil and processed water over a three-hour period. The cause was reportedly an “above ground pipe failure”. At that time, Greenpeace said that Canadian Natural Resources has had 2,168 pipeline incidents between 2003 and 2012. They said the spill in April was the company’s 13th in 2014. West Coast Native News reports that the company had two other pipeline spills in Alberta this month alone, along with two well leaks.

Last year, award-winning journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk commented, “A Global News investigation found that Alberta’s pipeline infrastructure has leaked 61,000 times in the last 37 years. Approximately 29,000 spills involved oil, a rate of two crude oil spills a day. The remainder involved everything from salt water to condensate.”

In June 2013, the Council of Canadians Red Deer chapter helped organize a workshop in Bowden (about 40 kilometres south of Red Deer) with Anthony Swift from the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council to talk about Alberta’s aging pipeline network. Kinder Morgan is seeking to expand its 60-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, while Trans Canada wants to re-purpose its 55-year-old natural gas pipeline from Alberta into the Energy East oil pipeline. Those pipelines would carry respectively 890,000 and 1.1 million barrels of bitumen from Alberta every day.