August 30, 2013

Bitumen Emulsion Seepage

 
Federal investigation launched at CNRL oilsands site
 

EDMONTON, ALTA: August 8, 2013 -- Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) workers cleaning up the bitumen emulsion on this marsh after it seeped up through a fissure under the water at their Primrose oil sand projects north of Cold Lake, August 8, 2013. A total of four sites have this seepage occuring and to date 7300 barrels have been collected from 13.5 hectares. (ED KAISER-EDMONTON JOURNAL)

OTTAWA-Environment Canada has launched an investigation into an ongoing industrial spill that has lasted for weeks in Alberta at an oilsands facility about 300 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
First reported to provincial regulators on June 24, Canadian Natural Resources Limited says seepage of bitumen emulsion at four different sites of the facility, near Cold Lake, continue but are contained and being recovered.

“Environment Canada’s Enforcement Branch is currently assessing the situation with respect to federal environmental and wildlife laws within its jurisdiction, and has opened an investigation,” said Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson in a statement sent to Postmedia News on Wednesday evening.
The Alberta government’s energy regulator and its environment department are also conducting separate investigations into the incident, monitoring for potential impacts to soil, water, as well as dozens of wildlife deaths.

“We are working with Environment Canada in several areas, including wildlife,” said Alberta Environment spokeswoman Nikki Booth.

A spokeswoman for CNRL told Postmedia News that Environment Canada officials were on the site of the incident on July 4 and had followed up with additional requests for information.

“We have provided the requested information to EC  in regards to understanding the incident, the cause, and our plans going forward,” said spokeswoman Zoe Addington.
The facility uses a method employed in many oilsands operations that involves the injection of steam, deep underground to recover bitumen, the tar-like heavy oil found in natural deposits in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

CNRL said it believes the seepage was caused by “mechanical failures” in some wellbores that it is investigating, while working with government officials on clean-up efforts. The provincial energy regulator has reported those efforts are ongoing.

Bitumen recovery, impacted soil removal, fissure exposure, surface water management and containment efforts continue at the… sites,” said the Alberta Energy Regulator in its last online update on Aug. 20. “To date, the total wildlife impacts between all four sites have been reported with two beavers, 38 birds, 91 amphibians and 32 small mammals deceased.”

The company has reported recovering about 8,700 barrels of bitumen emulsion and has about 200 employees and contractors on site to “continue to reduce the impacts of these bitumen emulsion seepages until the locations are fully remediated.” Wildlife monitoring teams from the company are also “doing sweeps” each day, says CNRL on its website.

Environment Canada confirmed its own investigation two weeks after Postmedia News asked it a series of questions about the incident and the nature of warning letters sent to another company operating in the oilsands. Suncor had received 17 written warnings from the federal department over a three year period between 2009 and 2013, about alleged violations after more than 400 inspections.

Johnson said many of the warnings to oilsands companies were related to alleged violations that didn’t result in direct environmental harm, such as the failure to submit mandatory reports on time.
He added that the volume of inspections also demonstrated that the department takes environmental impacts of oilsands development “very seriously.”

The department also opened an enforcement office in Fort McMurray in April 2012 to help enforce federal environmental laws such as the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, he explained.

“The new office is part of the continued commitment by Environment Canada to work with other regulators to proactively and cooperatively monitor the environmental performance of oilsands operations,” Johnson said.

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