CNRL reports aquifer is contaminated with BTEX 10 km from closest seepage site, How far from steam injection site?

CNRL finds contaminated water at steaming site by Sheila Pratt, December 19, 2014, Edmonton Journal

A mix of chemicals has contaminated groundwater on the Wolf Lake project run by oil giant Canadian Natural Resources Limited near Cold Lake.

CNRL reported the contamination of the aquifer to the Alberta Energy Regulator on Oct. 29. The regulator did not make it public until late [December 19].

The chemicals found in the test well was a mix called BTEX that includes benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenze, said Ryan Bartlett, an AER spokesperson.

“The company is not allowed to do any more steaming until we know the cause of the contamination,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said he could not provide any details about the extent of the contamination or how the chemicals flowed into the aquifer.

CNRL was using its high-pressure cyclical steaming process, the same process it used on its nearby Primrose lease where four leak sites were discovered in spring 2013. The sticky bitumen flowed up to the surface from underground fissures into the forest and into one lake.

The site of water contamination is about 10 kilometres northeast of the closest seepage site.

Bartlett said the BTEX chemicals can be “naturally occurring.” BTEX chemicals are found in petroleum products and a major cause of contamination is leakage from faulty gasoline underground storage tanks. email hidden; JavaScript is requiredEmphasis added]

Ludwig family carries on father Wiebo’s Alberta oilpatch battle by Andrea Huncar, December 16, 2014, CBC News
Wiebo Ludwig’s family is vowing to continue the fight against nearby oil and gas development started by the late anti-oilpatch activist. “They had a long protracted battle with us while my dad was still here,” Joshua Ludwig said by phone from the Trickle Creek Ranch near Hythe, Alta. “And I think they should know that if they think that we are going to lay down in his absence they’re sadly mistaken.”

In June, Canadian Natural Resources Limited drilled a sour gas well 5.5 kilometres north of their farm. Last month, CNRL applied to drill another well 6.9 kilometres from their community of more than 60 people. That application is now being reviewed by the Alberta Energy Regulator.

Ludwig submitted a statement of concern on Nov. 23 warning CNRL that further development in the area “will not be welcomed” for health, safety and environmental reasons. Historically, he says, companies have respected an agreement not to construct wells within a five-mile (eight-kilometre) radius.

Five days later RCMP showed up at Trickle Creek, Ludwig said. He said he told police to let CNRL know “they should keep some distance in order to keep the peace.” RCMP would not discuss the meeting, but in a statement confirmed that officers have spoken with “the parties involved in the interest of keeping the public peace.”

Police are now investigating recent vandalism to pipeline infrastructure in the area, as well as other parts of Alberta. Ludwig would not reveal next steps should the well be approved, but in a second letter to CNRL in December, he wrote: “We will do anything that is morally justifiable to make the proposed well as economically unattractive for you as possible.”

“I hope it doesn’t all go crazy again here,” said Ludwig’s neighbour Rob Everton recalling attacks targeting the sector in the 1990s that struck fear into the area. “Some bad things had happened when our neighbours object to some of these projects.” He said oil wells are a fact of life in his community creating wealth and jobs. As long as companies maintain good operating standards, it’s not a problem, he added.

But the Trickle Creek community, which says it is 75 per cent fossil fuel independent, has always seen things differently. They say toxic sour gas emissions have led to health problems, including miscarriages, and killed livestock. They insist a shift away from fossil fuels is essential in the fight against climate change. “I guess in some ways we’re ahead of the curve, but I think they should give us the room to do that ,” Ludwig said.

In 2010, a gas well blew out and burned for more than two weeks near Trickle Creek but resulted in no penalties.

Energy Resources Conservation Board investigators determined CNRL hit an abnormally high pressure formation it could not have known about because this was a new drilling area. “It’s very clear to us that accidents do happen,” said Ludwig. “And that doesn’t inspire any confidence in us that they’re going to do due diligence to prevent more accidents.”

The family also argues the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing or fracking poses a threat to their local water supply while industry says it can be done safely.

CNRL declined comment but In a letter to the Ludwigs, insists that “fracking has been used successfully and safely for many years” in the area, and would not affect nearby water aquifers. [Refer to above CNRL contamination and link below]

CNRL also assured them the proposed well “has been designed and planned to meet or exceed AER requirements. [Emphasis added]

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd stops pumping steam after leak at Wolf Lake facility by Geoffrey Morgan, December 22, 2014, Financial Post
CNRL first reported a casing break in one of the thermal wells at its Wolf Lake project on Oct. 29, which is when the company stopped steaming at the site.
CALGARY – Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., whose steam-assisted oilsands operations near Cold Lake are currently the subject of a regulatory investigation, has stopped pumping steam into a well at its Wolf Lake facility when oil products started leaking into an aquifer.

Neither CNRL nor the Alberta Energy Regulator could say Monday how much benzene, a combustible compound found in gasoline, had leaked into the underground aquifer, which alternates between pumping steam into the earth and pumping bitumen out of it. The AER could not confirm whether the contaminants were continuing to leak into the water – even though the initial incident occurred almost two months ago.

CNRL first reported a casing break in one of the thermal wells at its Wolf Lake project on Oct. 29, which is when the company stopped steaming at the site. AER spokesperson Ryan Bartlett said the incident “did not meet our posting criteria” at the time because it didn’t impact a water body.

“It was just recently that contamination was discovered in one of the company’s groundwater evaluation wells,” Mr. Bartlett said. The AER said “elevated levels” of benzene were found in the aquifer.

“The event occurred deep underground, 15 [kilometres] away from the nearest private use water well,” CNRL spokesperson Julie Woo said in an emailed statement Monday afternoon. She added that the company is conducting an investigation with the AER. “Following this assessment, a remediation plan will be developed to ensure that we minimize any further environmental impact,” Ms. Woo said.

The AER posted the incident report to its website after 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon [right before Christmas holidays for many]; the regulator’s usual practice is to post incident reports in the morning. “The timing was not ideal,” Mr. Bartlett said Monday.

The incident is not the first time CNRL has had difficulty with high-pressure steam at its oilsands facilities. In the spring of 2013, steaming activities at CNRL’s Primrose oilsands project – which is directly east from Wolf Lake – caused bitumen emulsion to seep up. Company president Steve Laut said the problem was a faulty oil well that had been drilled by another operator.

Even though the company stopped steaming in the area, bitumen emulsion continued to seep up in four separate locations across the company’s acreage over a period of months. CNRL spent $40 million cleaning up the area and, during a tour of the affected area, Mr. Laut said, “We’re very sorry this happened and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it’s cleaned up.”

Mr. Bartlett at the AER said a report on that incident will be published by the regulator in the first quarter of next year. He also said that, until an investigation of the incident at Wolf Lake, the AER won’t know whether there are similarities between the two.

CNRL said the two incidents were unrelated. “The [Wolf Lake] incident is not related to the Primrose flow to surface events – and there is no bitumen emulsion to surface at Wolf Lake,” [YET] Ms. Woo said.

“Other than the fact that they’re both high-pressure cyclic steam stimulation facilities, I can’t speculate on how they’re similar or different,” Mr. Bartlett said. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

AER, Alberta’s new energy regulator seeks the world’s trust, as Alberta’s caprock is frac’d “to Hell” ]

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