Alberta's unstoppable oil spill

Photo by Mike De Souza

New figures released yesterday from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) show a concerted effort is still underway to clean up the growing amount of bitumen emulsion – a mixture of tar sands oil and water – that is pooling in a forested area surrounding Canada Natural Resource Ltd.’s Cold Lake project.

The cause of the seepage, which shows no sign of subsiding, has yet to be determined.

AER’s updated volumes show that the total amount of bitumen emulsion recovered on four separate spill sites amounts to 1444.4 cubic metres, a volume equivalent to 1.4 million litres of oil.

In addition, cleanup crews have removed 494 cubic metres of oily vegetation from the forested landscape and an additional 1049.62 metric tonnes – equivalent to 2.3 million pounds – of “impacted soils.”

The AER’s previous figures, released August 29, stated 1275.7 cubic metres of bitumen emulsion had been recovered to date, the equivalent of 1.2 million litres.

Between the dates of August 29 and September 6, roughly 168,800 litres of bitumen emulsion were recovered, equaling around 1062 barrels of oil equivalent, or an average of 150 barrels per day.

CNRL, the company responsible for the in-situ operations that led to the seepage, put out a release dated August 25-31 that claims the rate of bitumen emulsion release amounts to less than 20 barrels of bitumen emulsion per day.

The disparity between CNRL’s figures  a release of 20 barrels per day  and the AER recovery figures – of 150 barrels per day – is due to unrecovered bitumen emulsion on site, according to CNRL public affairs advisor Zoe Addington. CNRL is cleaning up more per day than is currently leaking, she said.

Original CNRL images released to researcher Emma Pullman show oil pooled high in a forested area, presenting both the company and provincial regulators with an extraordinarily difficult cleanup.

The CNRL statement also claims the company is “focusing on a reduced impact area of 13.5 hectares, a 35% reduction” since original reporting.

The AER report states 20.7 hectares have been impacted from the ongoing release.

CNRL is still working to recover bitumen, remove soil, manage contaminated water and expose fissures where bitumen emulsion is migrating to the surface on three of the leakage sites, says the AER. The company is also recovering bitumen, agitating and skimming oil from the surface of a water body and removing vegetation from the fourth site.

The AER also reports that to date 2 beavers, 43 birds, 104 amphibians and 40 small mammals are deceased as a result of the release.

CNRL’s latest statement reads, “unfortunately some animal fatalities have occurred and three beavers, seventeen birds and two small mammals are being cared for at a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre...”

As part of an ongoing subsurface investigation CNRL is drilling hydrogeological and delineation wells around the affected locations and has cited “mechanical failures” as the presumed cause of the continuous leaks, although the AER recently told DeSmog Canada the cause remains unknown.

CNRL was responsible for a similar release in 2009 that was likely caused by underground fractures, according to a report by the Energy Resources Conservation Board, the former AER.

According to Cara Tobin, spokesperson for the AER, the current spill “is in the same operational area” as the 2009 release. “These are releases coming up from basically cracks in the ground, not from the well pad,” she said. Although, she adds, it is too early to say what might be the cause of this particular series of underground leaks.

“We do not have the technical data or evidence to verify what that cause might be...We will determine that through our investigation process,” she said.

Last week Environment Canada announced a federal investigation into the seepage is underway alongside two separate investigations at the provincial level.

This article originally appeared on DeSmog Canada.

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Food For Thought

Yesterday, two large tanker trucks delivered and discharged over 10,000 gallons of bitumen onto a new street being built in my community one block from me house. Apparently, no reporters were there or cared given the fact that it rained for two whole days afterwards and all that oily water then ran off the bitumen and into the grey water drains along the street.

Two days ago, I drove to Edmonton from Calgary and noted the massive amount of new asphalt being laid in efforts to expand Highway II into a 280 km long six lane highway. I did the math and estimate that over 1.8 million barrels of bitumen have been spread out across this section of the Prairies just for this road alone.

I also counted two dead deer, one fox and a coyote that had been killed in just the last two days alone, apparently attempting to cross the highway.

where is the truth in your missleading adventure of press

hello prescient readers

the headline "Alberta's unstoppable oil spill" Very Misleading - this is not a spill - it is seepage and happens all the time all over Alberta and anywhere there is oil of any nature in the ground- (think the opening words to the Beverly Hillbillies show)

second - your article says -

"" According to Cara Tobin, spokesperson for the AER, the current spill “is in the same operational area” as the 2009 release. “These are releases coming up from basically cracks in the ground, not from the well pad,” she said. Although, she adds, it is too early to say what might be the cause of this particular series of underground leaks.""

making it look in print if as though Cara Tobin used the word spill - (you sneaky reporter types putting the word just before the quote to make it look as though she had used the word) - then you can claim - there is no quote marks so it is clearly not a quote - oh the semantic gymnastics your mind goes through -

what i see is a continuation of a decline in credibility - I put a quick call into Ms. Tobin and she laughed and reported not only had she not used the word "spill" in her responses - she had made it clear that this event is very different than a spill - and she further clarified to me that she thought VO was using a quote she had actually given to DESMOG Canada - or some variation there of --

Hey VO if you want to be taken seriously when you actually have the facts - you will have long ago seen that ship sail as every time you use grammatical semantics to play the minds of readers to follow your own agenda you are pawning out your credibility -


if you truly want to chase a story with some legs - find out why Wind farms have 0 environmental impact studies done - while the windmills placed there (in avian migratory routes-who would have thought the wind should blow there??) - while the windmills placed there continue to destroy birds by the uncountable numbers.

Natural Oil Seepage

Natural seepage of heavy oil is extremely common place. Check out SOS California ( - the heavy oil seepage off the coast of Santa Barbara California is releasing the equivalent of a Valdez sized oil spill every four years!

Doing the Harpercon con.

Mr. Whittaker, I enjoyed reading your input, but I think you have missed the point. Today's news is formatted to catch one's attention - it is ubiquitous. The headlines do not have to be true but it must get your attention. Last issue's headline from MacLean's magazine front cover was "Why Boomers are Doomed" and the latest issue headlines "The Dangers of Going Gluten Free".

Whether it is a leak, a seepage, or whatever you want to call it, the pooling bitumen in Alberta is very toxic to all life and bringing it to the attention of the public, by any means necessary, is certainly the right thing to do. I applaud the VO for its headline. It sure did catch my attention and I did read the article. Thank you VO team for your input to a nasty reality.

Oil seeps are nothing unusual

Oil seeps are nothing unusual and occur naturally all around the world. Surface oil seeps used to be the sign of where to drill for oil.    So the oil/bitumen/hydrocarbon-whatever "leak" mentioned here is not that big a deal, however caused.