Officials say they have a good handle on the oil that spewed into a central Alberta river and lake earlier this week from a ruptured pipeline.
Stephen Bart, vice president of crude oil operations for Plains Midstream Canada, said crews have been working around the clock implementing their emergency response since Thursday night, when the company's control centre was alerted to the leak from its Rangeland pipeline system just north of Sundre.
“The good news is that the pipeline wasn’t flowing at the time of the release, so the volume of the spill is relatively small,” Bart told reporters on Sunday.
“And the other good news is the river was flowing quickly given the high rain fall. So what that did was flush the majority of the spill out into the lake where it can be handled more effectively.”
An estimated 3,000 barrels of oil leaked into the Red Deer River and the contamination spread downstream until it reached Gleniffer Lake and reservoir, where the majority of the containment efforts have been deployed.
The pipeline is used to ship light sour crude oil, but only when demand requires it — so the line isn't constantly in use.
Bart said they have up to 100 people on site, including 25 companies that have a high level of experience in cleaning up spills.
There are three phases to the emergency response plan: containment, cleanup and reclamation. Bart said containment of the spill is mostly complete and the cleanup has now started.
“We were able to achieve primary containments in the lake within 12 hours of the release,” he said.
Bart said there is one section of boom roughly 1,760 metres long stretching across the lake, with a secondary boom installed behind it. Containment measures are also being deployed at the site where the pipeline crosses the river to stop seepage.
Bart said while the river’s shoreline has been affected, the oil is pooling in isolated spots along the 30-kilometre stretch between the location of the spill and the lake.
Cleanup at the lake includes skimming oil and organic debris coated in oil to be picked up and disposed. Crews are also using vacuum trucks to scoop up oil pockets along the river.
Bart said they are trying to communicate directly with as many landowners as possible.The first day the company says it contacted everyone around the lake and now they are going door to door to contact people affected along the river.
An information centre for residents has been set up at the James River Community Hall just north of Sundre.
“I understand people have concerns about the drinking water quality, so we’ve made water available to the resorts and drinking water available to residents,” Bart said.
He said updates and how to get access to drinking water can be found at the website plainsresponds.com. Bart said they are also using a call-out system to keep local residents informed.
The province says while it will continue to monitor air and water quality, there's no health risk for those who live downstream of the Gleniffer reservoir, which provides more than 100,000 Albertans with drinking water.
Foot patrols are looking for affected wildlife and alarms have been set up to ward off animals. Bart said they hope local wildlife groups will help the process.
“Today we’ve had very few reports of wildlife impact,” he said.
However, an official from Alberta Environment there are anecdotal stories of animals being affected.
The precise amount of oil that spilled into the waterway has not been determined and the cause of the oil leak is still under investigation, CBC's Kyle Bakx reported.
“Plains wants to ensure landowners that we are doing everything that we can to minimize the potential impact that this incident may have on them,” Bart said. “We are doing everything we can to clean it up as quickly as possible and restore the water and the land.”
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