Skip to content

TransCanada subsidiary spills toxic pipeline drilling fluid into the Athabasca River

Great Slave Lake

The Northwest Territories chapter drew water from Great Slave Lake to urge Trudeau to protect it from the tar sands and pipelines.

Nova Gas Transmission Ltd., a subsidiary of TransCanada Corp., has spilled potentially toxic drilling fluid into the Athabasca River about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The National Energy Board is now investigating how much drilling fluid was released and what chemicals were in it.

The Canadian Press reports, “The company was installing pipe for its McDermott Extension natural gas pipeline project about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray when the incidents took place. The NEB said the company is in non-compliance with NEB rules for failure to adhere to its environmental protection plan.” As such, the NEB has ordered Nova Gas to immediately stop drilling under the Athabasca River.

According to the news report, TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper downplayed the incident by saying the drilling fluid would have dispersed quickly given the strong flow of the river. The Athabasca River, which is near many tar sands projects, flows north into the Peace-Athabasca Delta, south of Fort Chipewyan, and then into Slave River and Great Slave Lake. Just two weeks ago, the Council of Canadians Northwest Territories chapter sent a jar of water from Great Slave Lake to highlight the dangers to Prime Minister Trudeau of ongoing fossil fuel production.

According to the company’s application to the National Energy Board, the purpose of the $43.7 million McDermott Extension project is to “provide transportation and metering facilities to transport and measure sweet natural gas to meet aggregate firm service delivery contract obligations of 183,000 GJ/d [Gigajoules per day] in the Fort Hills Area.” Six gigajoules is about the amount of potential chemical energy in one standard US barrel of oil when combusted.

The application promised that, “TransCanada will operate the Project in accordance with all governing regulatory requirements, permit conditions and other approvals…” The Canadian Press reports that yesterday’s spill of the drilling fluid into the Athabasca River follows four other recent incidents of concern, one in October and three in November.

That’s not very reassuring about TransCanada’s promises.

TransCanada is the company behind the proposed 1.1 million barrels per day Energy East oil pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick. That 4,400 kilometre long pipeline, should the Trudeau government approve it, would cross 961 waterways, including 300 waterways in New Brunswick. In addition, TransCanada now holds the rights to develop and operate 2,000 kilometres of pipeline in Mexico. The company was just awarded the contract to build a 263 kilometre pipeline in Mexico from the Gulf of Mexico coastal port town of Tuxpan to the city of Tula, which is located about 85 kilometres north of Mexico City.

Further reading
Where Oil Meets Water: Energy East an unacceptable risk to waterways (Aug. 19, 2014)
TransCanada threatens water and climate with pipeline expansion plans in Mexico (Nov. 18, 2015)