09/17/2013 05:37 EDT | Updated 11/17/2013 05:12 EST

Alberta: A Spill Filled Summer


It's been another spill-filled summer in the spill-prone province of Alberta.

With Alberta averaging over two oil spills a day over the past 37 years, there are many spills that we don't know about. However we do know about some and what we know is alarming. Here is a recap of just five of the spills to hit Alberta this summer.

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The summer kicked off with one doozy of a spill in Zama City in northeastern Alberta. Clocking in at a whopping 9.5 million litres, this is one of the largest spills in Alberta's history and one the provincial government thought the public did not need to know about. The Alberta government kept this spill a secret.

This spill only came to light after a local resident reported it to a television station. By the time the story broke, 60,000 barrels of industrial waste water had spilled, wide spread damage had been done to trees and wetlands, and the Dene Tha, whose traditional territory the spill was on, said "every tree or plant died" in the area touched by the toxic water.

We still don't know what chemicals were in the water, how long it was spilling, and no pictures of the event were ever released by the government.

The next one on the five-spill list is from Plains Midstream. Plains Midstream gained notoriety when their Rainbow pipeline spilled, releasing 4.5 million liters of oil into the community of Little Buffalo. This caused residents to develop headaches and stomach problems, so families kept schoolchildren at home for days.

Plains Midsteam is also responsible for the Red Deer River spill that saw 475,000 barrels of oil go into the Red Deer River, putting at risk the drinking water supply of tens of thousands of Albertans. Their most recent spill was 950 barrels of condensate. While this is smaller then some of their other spills, condensate is laden with cancer causing chemicals and any amount going into the environment is reason for concern.

Legacy's rupture in Turner Valley is the third spill on our journey. This was a sour gas spill caused by debris from the extreme floods that hit southern Alberta in June. This spill was particularly concerning because sour gas is a highly toxic and deadly substance. Residents in Turner Valley were told to stay in their homes and some were evacuated because of the dangerous nature of sour gas. Luckily no one was injured or killed but it shows us just how serious pipeline problems can be.

The fourth spill is Penwest's spill in Little Buffalo. The spill was originally reported to be 5,000 liters of oil but it was later amended to include 400,000 to 600,000 litres of industrial wastewater. It's hard to imagine how someone misses 400,000 to 600,000 liters of wastewater but Penwest and the Alberta Energy Regulator both managed to do it.

Our final spill is from Enbridge, which seems to have a spill every summer. This one ended up shutting down three of their lines as 750 barrels of light synthetic crude spilled into a stream between Anzac and Janvier, Alberta.

A glimpse at these five spills shows the impacts pipelines can cause and sheds light on the culture of secrecy that exists in Alberta where spills are not made public, impacts aren't shared, damages are hidden, and pictures never released. Add to that the low enforcement rate, for tar sands violations less then 1% of violations face any type of sanction, and you begin to get a glimpse of just how severe Alberta's pipeline problems really are.

Given the extent of the province's problems, Alberta is in no position to push its pipelines to new jurisdictions.

Maybe once Alberta is down to one spill a day it can start talking about building new pipelines - until then there is much work to do and little credibility for the province to stand on.

*In addition to the pipeline spills, Alberta almost had a series of rail cars plunge into the Bow River in Calgary and is sill dealing with 4-6 tar sands spills from an in-situ site on Beaver Lake Cree traditional territory near Cold Lake, Alberta. The tar sands spills have been spilling for months with no end in sight.