People living downstream from a ruptured pipeline in Alberta can only hope the spill won't seriously pollute the water they depend on for drinking and recreation.
Officials were alerted Thursday night that the 50-year-old Rangeland line owned by Plains Midstream Canada had ruptured roughly three kilometres north of Sundre, threatening the water supply for more than 100,000 Albertans who live downstream on the Red Deer River.
So far, the province says, there's no risk to human health and it will continue to monitor air and water quality. An information centre has been set up at the James River Community Hall just north of Sundre for residents.
Up to 3,000 barrels of oil leaked from beneath Jackson Creek, a tributary of the Red Deer, and the contamination spread downstream until it reached Gleniffer Lake and reservoir, where the majority of the containment efforts have been deployed.
Plains Midstream is building a base of operations between the spill site and the Dickson dam to direct the cleanup effort that has just begun.
On Saturday, a long line of transport trucks brought supplies at the camp as cranes and bulldozers laid down prefabricated flooring on the wet ground. Office trailers were being set up and cleanup equipment was being stockpiled as a helicopter buzzed overhead.
Stephen Bart, vice president of crude oil operations for the company, said it's too early to tell how long the cleanup will take on the fast moving river, which has been swollen in recent days by heavy rain.
"We deeply regret this incident," he said. "We're obviously working to ensure we're doing all we can to limit the extent of the release."
Closer to Sundre, within a few kilometres of the breached pipeline, oil has pooled away from the river, and a film of black ooze has coated grass along shoreline.
The province issued an emergency alert for Mountain View and Red Deer counties, warning people not to touch, drink, swim or boat on the waterways affected by the spill.
"I was going to go fishing but [Alberta Environment officials] said, 'no, you're not allowed, "' Andrew Van Oosten, who huddled with his friends underneath a tarp at his campsite near the Gleniffer Reservoir, told CBC News. "You are not allowed to go near the water because it [oil] is washing up on shore.”
The advisory only affects residents from the spill site to Gleniffer Lake; several communities downstream, including Red Deer, are currently not affected.
“Red Deer’s water supply remains unaffected and we do not anticipate contamination of our water supply,” said Ron Wardner, the town's construction and maintenance superintendent.
Near site of earlier spill
But it’s not the first time residents have received this type of news. A Pembina pipeline ruptured in 2008 roughly just a few kilometres from the site of the new oil spill.
"Everytime it happens you get a little more ticked off,” said Doug Hawtey, who lives downstream from Gleniffer Lake.
He worries this latest oil spill will leave permanent damage: "There's no way they can clean that up," he said.
Randy Westergaard of the Gleniffer Lake Resort is doing his best to deal with a calamity that came as residents prepared for the summer season. The marina has been closed until further notice, as have a number of campsites in the area.
The resort includes 750 recreation lots and permanent homes, and Westergaard credits the company for moving quickly to deal with the mess, including trucking in drinking water to the resort.
"Who is to blame? The government are the ones who gave them approval in the first place. It's unfortunate it had to happen," Westergaard said.
Pipeline company probed
It’s the second spill in roughly a year that Plains Midstream has had to deal with after its Rainbow pipeline cracked near Peace River, Alta., spilling 28,000 barrels.
The province's energy regulator is still investigating the cause.
Bob Curran of the Energy Resources Conservation Board says two incidents in a row does not necessarily raise any flags.
“Well it really depends on what happened,” he said. “Just because an incident occurred with the same company, it doesn't necessarily mean they were doing anything wrong. Sometimes strange things can happen that are beyond their control so that will be part of our investigation.”
ERCB monitors are on the ground at the site of this leak and the priority right now is to contain the spill, Curran said..
Premier Alison Redford says it’s unfortunate but there are always effects, such as oil spills, that come with economic development.
She visited the containment effort Friday on Glenniffer Lake and promised a full investigation into the incident.
"It's actually an exception, if you think that we have hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipelines across this province," the premier said. "There has been a leak and it has been contained.
"We have pipelines that criss-cross this province that are intact and work."
With more and more pipelines either under construction or under review in Alberta, environmentalists worry fast-tracking the projects could lead to more spills.
"We have the federal government that is trying to gut Canada's environmental legislation and streamline the process of future pipeline proposals, and so that’s something that we think definitely needs to be stopped," said Greenpeace spokesman Mike Hudema.