Canada’s largest oil spill in over 35 years hit Alberta this week, resulting in 4.5 million litres of crude oil being leaked into the surrounding eco systems. The spill came from a pipeline over 44 years old, which raises serious questions about the safety precautions being taken with such a dangerous material.
A preventable oil spill
Although the effects are nowhere near what we saw from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year, this leak from a pipeline owned by Plains Midstream also came as a result of faulty equipment on a dated pipeline. The pipeline that runs 770 km from Zama to Edmonton carries 187,000 barrels of oil per day, most of which were leaked out near Little Buffalo last Friday on April 29th. Now, the clean-up begins, but there is only so much that can be done.
Possibly worst of all, is the pipeline was inspected in 2009 with an ultrasonic tool for cracks, and it passed. This test came as a result of a leak in the pipeline in 2006 that resulted in 200,000 litres of oil leaking. Now that 4.5 million litres have leaked, will the pipeline be examined more closely?
Oil spill clean up ahead
The environmental clean up required after an oil spill of this magnitude is expected to take weeks. To assist in establishing a clear action plan to minimize the effects of the spill, Plains Midstream are receiving assistance from environmental contractors, as well as the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB). However, the ERCB is the same organization that gave the pipeline a passing grade less than 2 years ago after its ultrasonic inspection.
At this time, the oil is still 300 metres away from any running water, and around 7 kilometres from the nearest home, but still the oil leaked into the ground and water system to the point where workers are skimming oil out and staging areas are being outlined to separate the oil.
It’s unfortunate to see this kind of event take place again – let’s hope that this oil leak teaches the ERCB and Plains Midstream not to continue to put so much faith in their aging pipelines, and do more thorough safety inspections on a yearly basis to keep our ecosystems safe.