Leak at Oil Sands Project in Alberta Heightens Conservationists’ Concerns by Ian Austen, August 8, 2013, The New York Times
The oil company calls it “seepage.” Environmentalists describe it as a “blow out.” Either way, the leak at the oil sands project in Northern Alberta — which has spilled 280,022 gallons of oil across 51 acres since June — is stoking the controversy over the energy source. “This mess is a symptom of the problems with the reckless expansion of the tar sands,” said Anthony Smith, a lawyer in the international programs division of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “Environmental regulations have just not caught up.” … The cause of the oil spill at the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Cold Lake, Alberta, remains unclear. The company that owns the project, Canadian Natural Resources, blames abandoned wells in the area. Environmentalists point to fundamental flaws with the company’s process. Until they find the source of the problem, oil continues to leak at four locations. The spill, modest by historical standards, is manageable for the company, which says it expects to spend $60 million on cleanup and investigation. But already the leak is spoiling the landscape and hurting wildlife. It has killed 71 frogs, 27 birds and 23 mammals, including two beavers, according to the company.
At the site, Canadian Natural Resources uses an approach that is increasingly common for oil sands ventures. In a process similar to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Canadian Natural injects hot steam at high pressures into underground oil sands deposits. The heat liquefies the bitumen and the pressure separates it from the surrounding sand. The process allows the bitumen to flow to the surface through wells. Canadian Natural has been reluctant to acknowledge the spill, going public only after The Toronto Star published an article based on photographs and documents from a government scientist who was not identified by name. But in a conference call with analysts last week, Steve W. Laut, the company’s president, repeatedly defended its process, saying it had not caused the spill.
Mr. Laut said that the amount of pressure needed to force bitumen through the protective rock layer “is significantly higher” than that used by the company. Instead, he argued that the oil was seeping up through inadequately sealed, abandoned oil wells in the area. “You cannot have these failures without a well bore failure,” he told the analysts. Canadian Natural did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday. But the Alberta Energy Regulator has swiftly disputed Mr. Laut’s statement. “We do not currently have the evidence or data to support any conclusions as to the cause of the incident and look forward to reviewing C.N.R.L.’s information supporting their conclusions on the root cause of the releases,” Jim Ellis, the chief executive of the newly formed regulatory body, said in a statement. The regulator has ordered some of Canadian National’s operations near Cold Lake suspended and others reduced until the cleanup is complete and a cause for the spill is determined.
A study released in January by Alberta’s previous regulator about a 2009 spill at the same site also appears to undermine the company’s contention that old wells are the source of the problem. While that study did not determine a cause for the 2009 spill, its authors said that they believed that the protective layer of rock “was likely breached by high-pressure steam injection not related to a well bore issue.” The study added that the high pressure of the steam that Canadian Natural used probably contributed to the 2009 spill and that the steam and pressure may have created weaknesses in the protective rock layer and provided an escape route for bitumen. “There’s a pretty strong incentive for the company to portray this as a technical issue because technical issues can be fixed, unlike fundamental issues,” said Chris Severson-Baker, the managing director of the Pembina Institute, an environmental group based in Calgary, Alberta. But, Mr. Severson-Baker said, this leak, “calls into question how much knowledge the industry and the government have about the integrity of the cap rock before they allow these projects to proceed.” A version of this article appeared in print on August 9, 2013, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: Leak at Oil Sands Project in Alberta Heightens Conservationists’ Concerns. [Emphasis added]
CNRL Cold Lake Bitumen Geyser Continues, Despite Company Claims by Carol Linnitt, August 6, 2013, desmogblog.com
AER updated the total volume released on Friday to 1060 cubic metres – just over 6600 barrels of oil or more than 1 million litres. The volume of the Kalamazoo tar sands disaster, the largest and most expensive on shore oil spill in US history, was around 3 million litres. The original incident report claimed only 28 cubic metres of oil were released. “That volume grows every day, so it changes every day,” said Tobin. A recent Alberta Primetime exclusive shows a large body of water affected by subsurface seepage of bitumen. CNRL incident commander Kirk Skocylas says one area of the spill is emerging from “a subsurface source” and “because it is within the water body we physically can’t see where it is coming up.”
Cold Lake bitumen release on CNRL’s Primrose site. Source: Emma Pullman.
Helping Injured Animals Affected by Oil Spill in Cold Lake by Alberta Prime Time, August 06, 2013
[Refer also to:
‘Nobody understands’ leaks at Alberta tar sands high pressure injection operation, Leaks in Cold Lake have been going on for weeks with no end in sight, according to a government scientist ]