Alberta Issues CNRL Primrose Environmental Protection Order Over Ongoing Oil Spill

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CNRL SPILL PHOTOS
The Primrose oilsands project in northern Alberta has been issued an environmental protection order. The Alberta government says Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. must remove most of the water from one of its bitumen leak sites before it freezes. (CNRL/Emma Pullman) | CNRL/Emma Pullman

COLD LAKE, Alta. - The Primrose oilsands project in northern Alberta has been issued an environmental protection order.

The Alberta government said Tuesday that Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ) must remove most of the water from one of its bitumen leak sites — a small lake — before it freezes.

The government said in a release that removing the water will help permanent containment measures be put in place over the winter. The water is to be restored next year.

"Additionally permanent containment, clean-up, remediation and restoration of the water body by the spring of 2014 are required, at which time it will be refilled with stored water."

In July, Canadian Natural Resources said a mechanical failure at an old well was behind bitumen seepage at its project on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range. Four sites were identified and about 1.5 million litres of bitumen has since been recovered.

More than 100 animals have also died in the area.

The Calgary-based company has said the four locations have been secured and cleanup is ongoing.

It has also been ordered to limit the amount of steam it pumps into the reservoir while the Alberta Energy Regulator investigates.

Mike Hudema with Greenpeace Canada called the leak a "continuing disaster."

"It's crazy that it has come to this, and shows how hard it is to clean up tar sands incidents and the extreme nature of these spills," he said in a news release.

"As the spill numbers and questions rack up, the Alberta government should, at a minimum, put a hold on approving new underground tar sands operations until we understand how these leaks are happening and if other sites could run into similar problems."

Rachel Notley, environment critic with Alberta's New Democrats, called the protection order a good first step but one that should have been made earlier.

"It's very clear that all they're really trying to do is limit and slow down the level of damage that has been done and continues to occur to the environment as a result of this leak."

She said she doubts the wetland will ever be restored.

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