EDMONTON - Photos taken at the site of Alberta's second-worst pipeline spill suggest at least part of the site remains heavily contaminated despite company suggestions that the cleanup is complete.
Greenpeace released the pictures Friday of a pond adjacent to the Rainbow pipeline leak in northern Alberta that was detected April 29, 2011. It spilled 4.5 million litres of oil onto the landscape, closed a school in the nearby community of Little Buffalo and created health problems there as well.
At almost the same time as the photos were released, the provincial government announced a review of pipeline safety.
The photos, which Greenpeace says were taken last week, appear to show large globs of oil fouling vegetation and an oily sheen on the water. Deer and wolf tracks were spotted around the bank of the fouled pond.
"It had a really pungent smell and was hard to be around," said Melina Laboucan-Massimo, who works with Greenpeace and is a member of the local aboriginal band. "People who have hunted this area for generations no longer go there."
Samples of oil and water said to be from the site smelled sharply of oil and burned rubber. Greenpeace has yet to test the samples to determine what they contain.
The pond was on the south side of the pipeline corridor. Laboucan-Massimo said land on the north side appeared to be in better shape and was showing signs of recovery.
Pipeline owner Plains Midstream Canada says on its website that remediation on the site was completed last December.
"Plains remains committed to completing the comprehensive site cleanup and will ensure the land is properly restored to meet all applicable environmental standards," it says.
A company spokesman was not available to comment on the state of the cleanup.
Alberta Environment spokeswoman Jessica Potter said the government hasn't yet given its final approval to the Rainbow cleanup, adding the company remains responsible for the site.
"They have to prove to us the site's cleaned up and meets our standards," she said.
Inspectors will visit the site before any final approvals are given, said Potter. Such approvals for other spills have taken as long as three years.
While there are no fixed timelines for remediation, Potter said there's an "expectation" the work gets done efficiently.
"If we feel a company is not cleaning up, we will issue an enforcement order," she said.
An inspector is slated to visit the site next week, Potter said.
The Energy Resources Conservation Board — Alberta's energy regulator — allowed Plains to reopen the 44-year-old pipeline last August.
Greenpeace spokesman Mike Hudema said the state of the pond, given the company's statements, raises questions about the Alberta government's oversight on environmental cleanup.
"The province should be overseeing these cleanup efforts, should be ensuring the cleanup is timely, should be ensuring that adequate cleanup is done, and that all claims by the company as to where the cleanup process is are truthful," he said.
Also Friday, Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes announced a review of pipeline safety. He said in Calgary that the review would be led by the Energy Resources Conservation Board and be conducted by an independent agency. The review is to look at how pipeline integrity is managed, how safety of pipes crossing water is ensured and how responses to pipeline malfunctions are handled.
The review is expected to take months.
Hudema scoffed at a review led by an agency that he said is "part of the problem.
"It makes no sense to me to have one of the bodies that is potentially the problem for Alberta's pipeline problems to investigate itself," he said.
Hudema said the review should be led either by a scientific panel or the provincial auditor general, as was done in Saskatchewan.
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.