Alberta Pipeline Spill Releases 1,300 Barrels of Oil

July 21, 2011
Dina O'Meara
Times Colonist


CALGARY — Another northern Alberta oil pipeline has been shut down after operator Pembina Pipeline discovered a leak in a remote area north of Swan Hills.

An estimated 1,300 barrels were released from the underground pipeline onto muskeg and into a creek before the Calgary-based company shut down the line, said Pembina spokeswoman Shawn Davis.

"We detected a volume imbalance at our control centre and from that we initiated air and ground investigations," Davis said Wednesday. "And from there we found that there was a leak."

The pipeline was shut down around 7:45 a.m. Tuesday when the system showed a dip in volume, and the oil spill visually confirmed in the evening, she said.

The Moosehorn gathering system was flowing an average of 5,600 barrels of oil per day prior to the incident. Pembina has arranged for shippers to move volumes by truck to nearby truck terminals, Davis said.

Representatives of Alberta Environment, Sustainable Resource Development and the Energy Resources Conservation Board have been on site since early Wednesday to ensure the leak is contained and to start cleanup efforts, said Darin Barter with the ERCB.

"At this point, we don't know what happened," he said. "We're working with the company right now on pure containment and mitigation and cleanup measures."

The board also is following cleanup efforts at the Plains Midstream-operated Rainbow pipeline spill which released 28,000 barrels of oil onto sensitive muskeg and into a pond near Little Buffalo in northern Alberta in late April.

Both incidents involved pipelines which have been in operation between 30 and 50 years. However, Barter argued existing regulations and requirements should avoid aging pipelines becoming an issue.

"Related to these pipeline incidents generally, I think that we are in a situation where we can't say it's a trend, we can't say there is something wrong, it's just an unfortunate series of circumstances," Barter said.

The spill likely will be immaterial to Pembina's bottom line and have no short-term impact on producers as they are able to truck out, noted analyst Pat Kenny, with National Bank Financial.

The overall trend is expected to unfold differently as maintenance expenses rise and pipeline companies adjust their tolls to cover costs, Kenny said.

"They all claim to undertake these extensive maintenance programs and do the proper erosion testing and visual digs and whatnot," he said. "But they are 50-year-old pipelines which have been experiencing some leaks over the last couple of years."

Enbridge Inc., which ships the bulk of Canadian oil exports into the United States, continues to clean a May oil spill on its Norman Wells line in the Northwest Territories and the residue of a massive spill last July into Michigan waterways.

TransCanada Inc., has faced numerous leaks at pumping stations along its Keystone oil pipeline from Alberta to Oklahoma.

In July 2008, a Pembina pipeline rupture resulted in the spilling of up to 200 barrels of sweet crude into the Red Deer River and into the popular recreational site of Gleniffer Lake.

Pembina moves approximately 374,000 barrels of conventional crude per day along 8,500 kilometres of pipeline.

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