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3,500 000 Litre Pipeline Spill into NW Alberta Peatlands

June 6, 2012

On May 19, 2012 a pipeline leak occurred in north west Alberta, approximately 20 kilometres south east of Rainbow Lake. According to reports made by Pace Oil & Gas Ltd., the company responsible for the pipeline, this huge spill released 3,500,000 litres of an emulsion of oil and water (30:70) into surrounding peatlands.

This spill ranks among the largest in North America in recent years. For comparison sake, the 2010 Enbridge pipeline rupture spilled 3,000,000 L of oil into the Kalamazoo River of which two years later is still being cleaned up. 

Although the actual cause of the leak is still under investigation, the pipeline operator failed to detect the leak. Instead, the leak was discovered by another company operating in the area on a routine fly-over. The spill now covers at least 4.3 hectares of peatland, a type of sensitive and unique wetland ecosystem home to a variety of flora and fauna. Removing spilled fluid from the moss and standing water pockets of such ecosystems is extremely difficult.

AWA is extremely concerned that the pipeline leak went undetected by Pace long enough to allow 3,500 000 L of fluid to be spilled. It is clear that current pipeline safety regulations in Alberta, administered by the Energy Resource Conservation Board (ERCB) are not stringent enough to prevent large scale disasters from occurring. Although a statement released by the ERCB concluded that there was “no direct public impact as a result of the release,”  it is clear the environmental impacts felt by the region will be significant, and likely irreversible. The public will indeed feel the effects of this, and other inevitable pipeline spills, for years to come.

There is an urgent need to engage people with nature. All aspects of it. Not just the pretty bears and cute snakes. Also the realities of it, the death, struggles, and pain. Not only are people losing touch with nature, they are losing touch with the realities of nature.
- Clayton Lamb, January 2018
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