CALGARY - A representative for the company whose pipeline spilled hundreds of thousands of litres of oil into an Alberta river suggests there were two strokes of luck that kept the problem from being worse.

Stephen Bart, the vice-president of crude oil operations for Plains Midstream Canada, says the first piece of good luck was that oil wasn't flowing through the pipeline at the time.

Bart says the second was that the Red Deer River was swollen with recent rain, which washed the oil to the Gleniffer Reservoir where it can be more easily contained by booms, leaving only localized pockets of oil on the river.

"While there is shoreline along the river that has been impacted, it has been confined largely to a number of these localized areas, that when we get cordoned off, we can address more fully," Bart told reporters at a news conference on Sunday.

Plains Midstream Canada estimates between 1,000 and 3,000 barrels of oil spilled Thursday. There's no word yet on what caused the leak, but Bart told the news conference that the affected section of pipeline ran underneath the river.

Bart says there are people on foot who are looking for wildlife that may have been affected by the spill, but so far he says there have been few confirmed reports of injured animals so far.

He says some of the people on foot patrols have noise devices which can be used to scare birds away from landing on oil-affected areas.

Peter Hodson, a biology professor at Queen's University and an expert on the effects of oil spills on fish and wildlife, says it's promising that few struggling or injured animals have been spotted. He says it's also good news for fish if the oil managed to get to the lake quickly before being churned up in the river.

But Hodson says the fact the water level in the river was high means grass and other land that's further up on the riverbank is more likely to have been coated with oil.

"That means some animals, particularly the ducks that are nesting on the banks, and some of the animals like muskrat and beaver that use the banks quite a bit, may be that much more exposed to oil," Hodson says.

Gleniffer Lake provides the water supply for the City of Red Deer and is a popular recreation area for fishing and boating. The company has been providing bottled water to people who draw their drinking water directly from the river and the reservoir. The City of Red Deer indicated on its website that it didn't expect the spill to cause any problems.

Alberta Environment officials have been telling people to stay away from the water.

Bart says the booms have contained the oil to the western tip of the reservoir. "Our goal, obviously, is to preserve the water quality and drinking water quality and minimize the impact to wildlife, and get the spill cleaned up and the water and land restored as quickly as possible," he said.

Hodson says the cleanup along the river has to be done carefully so as not to disrupt nests and other animal habitat. Again, he says because the water flow on the river was high and the oil is further up on the bank, the oil will have to be wiped or scraped off of grasslands or marsh.

"You often need big machines and that means you have fairly heavy equipment running over the riverbank," Hodson explains.

"It's one of those things where the cure can be worse than the disease so it has to be done with a great deal of care."

This is the second recent serious spill for Plains Midstream. In April of last year a company pipeline in northwestern Alberta ruptured, leaking more than 4.5 million litres of oil. Just last week the company issued a release, showing clean up efforts near the spill are almost complete.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford assured Albertans over the weekend that the co-ordination to deal with the spill has been moving quickly, and she noted that spills are rare.

Redford has said this latest oil spill has raised questions about how oil pipelines are monitored and regulated. She has promised a full investigation and said if there are safety shortfalls the government will make changes.

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10 IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT CANADA'S OIL INDUSTRY
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  • 10. Oil And Gas Accounts For 4.8 Per Cent Of GDP

    The oil and gas industries accounted for around $65 billion of economic activity in Canada annually in recent years, or slightly less than 5 per cent of GDP. Source: <a href="http://www.ceri.ca/docs/2010-10-05CERIOilandGasReport.pdf" target="_hplink">Canada Energy Research Institute</a>

  • 9. Oil Exports Have Grown Tenfold Since 1980

    Canada exported some 12,000 cubic metres of oil per day in 1980. By 2010, that number had grown to 112,000 cubic metres daily. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=9&SheetID=224" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 8. Refining Didn't Grow At All As Exports Boomed

    Canada refined 300,000 cubic metres daily in 1980; in 2010, that number was slightly down, to 291,000, even though exports of oil had grown tenfold in that time. Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=7&SheetID=104" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 7. 97 Per Cent Of Oil Exports Go To The U.S.

    Despite talk by the federal government that it wants to open Asian markets to Canadian oil, the vast majority of exports still go to the United States -- 97 per cent as of 2009. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 6. Canada Has World's 2nd-Largest Proven Oil Reserves

    Canada's proven reserves of 175 billion barrels of oil -- the vast majority of it trapped in the oil sands -- is the second-largest oil stash in the world, after Saudi Arabia's 267 billion. Source: <a href="http://www.ogj.com/index.html" target="_hplink">Oil & Gas Journal</a>

  • 5. Two-Thirds Of Oil Sands Bitumen Goes To U.S.

    One-third of Canada's oil sands bitumen stays in the country, and is refined into gasoline, heating oil and diesel. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 4. Alberta Is Two-Thirds Of The Industry

    Despite its reputation as the undisputed centre of Canada's oil industry, Alberta accounts for only two-thirds of energy production. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the second and third-largest producers. Source: <a href="http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895" target="_hplink">Natural Resources Canada</a>

  • 3. Alberta Will Reap $1.2 Trillion From Oil Sands

    Alberta' government <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/27/alberta-oil-sands-royalties-ceri_n_1382640.html" target="_hplink">will reap $1.2 trillion in royalties from the oil sands over the next 35 years</a>, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute.

  • 2. Canadian Oil Consumption Has Stayed Flat

    Thanks to improvements in energy efficiency, and a weakening of the country's manufacturing base, oil consumption in Canada has had virtually no net change in 30 years. Consumption went from 287,000 cubic metres daily in 1980 to 260,000 cubic metres daily in 2010. Source: Source: <a href="http://membernet.capp.ca/SHB/Sheet.asp?SectionID=6&SheetID=99" target="_hplink">Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers</a>

  • 1. 250,000 Jobs.. Plus Many More?

    The National Energy Board says oil and gas employs 257,000 people in Canada, not including gas station employees. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the oil sands alone <a href="http://www.capp.ca/aboutUs/mediaCentre/NewsReleases/Pages/OilsandsaCanadianjobcreator.aspx" target="_hplink">will grow from 75,000 jobs to 905,000 jobs by 2035</a> -- assuming, of course, the price of oil holds up.