Nexen pipeline spills 1.3 million gallons of emulsion in northern Alberta

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Photo Courtesy: CBC

By Charmaine Noronha, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

TORONTO: Oil and gas company Nexen Energy apologized Friday for a pipeline break that spilled about 1.3 million gallons (five million litres) of a mixture of bitumen, water and sand at its Long Lake oilsands facility in northern Alberta this week.

The company, which was taken over by China’s CNOOC Ltd. in 2013, said the affected area is about 172,000 square feet (16,000 square meters) along the pipeline’s route.

Ron Bailey, Nexen’s senior vice-president of Canadian operations, said the company is deeply concerned about the spill.

“We sincerely apologize for the impact this had caused,” he said Friday.

Peter Murchland, spokesman for the Alberta Energy Regulator, said the spill amounts to roughly 31,000 barrels, making it one of the larger pipeline failures in recent years.

Nexen said the spill was discovered Wednesday afternoon and it’s since been contained. Bailey said Nexen shut down the pipeline as soon as the leak was detected.

Bailey said the pipeline is in a remote area accessed by helicopter and that the spill has not affected any residences or people. He added that the line is approximately 328 feet (100 metres) away from a lake and that the company is ensuring that the lake is protected.

The Alberta Energy Regulator and the company said it’s too soon to say what might have caused the leak.

Officials with the regulator are on site to assess the situation and ensure Nexen meets safety and environmental requirements during the cleanup. The emulsion has not flowed into a body of water, but it did spill into wetlands, the regulator said.

Long Lake, about 21 miles (35 kilometres) southeast of Fort McMurray, uses steam to heat oilsands bitumen deep underground, enabling it to flow to the surface.

The Alberta Energy Regulator said that in March, it investigated a spill of about 710,000 gallons (2.7 million litres) of condensate at Murphy Oil’s Seal oilfield in northwestern Alberta. Condensate is used to dilute heavy oil so it can flow through pipelines.

This week’s spill comes at a time when the safety of pipelines are a hot bed issue as Canada’s Conservative government is pushing the Obama administration to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf. The Keystone XL oil pipeline, which is designed to go from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, has been mired in the U.S. regulatory process for nearly seven years.

Delays in approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline have caused friction between the U.S. and Canada, the latter of which needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil production. Canada relies on the U.S. for 97 per cent of its energy exports.