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Large pipeline spill in Zama prompts call for prevention

A large spill of "produced water" from an oil pipeline near Zama, northern Alberta on the border with the Northwest Territories is prompting First Nations to call on the Alberta Government to require more safety technologies on such pipelines.


A large spill of “produced water” from an oil pipeline near Zama, northern Alberta on the border with the Northwest Territories is prompting First Nations to call on the Alberta Government to require more safety technologies on such pipelines.

The leak of approximately 9,500 cubic metres from an Apache Canada pipeline has affected an area of 42 hectares 20 kilometres northeast of Zama City according to the province’s Energy Resources Conservation Board. The leak was reported on June 1, but Apache only disclosed its size on June 12.

A report in The Globe and Mail said the local Dene Tha First Nation suspect the leak might have been occurring undetected for a long time, given the size of the area affected. The article by Nathan Vanderklippe and published on June 12, said that the First Nation had asked the Energy Resources Conservation Board to tighten its requirements on ageing pipelines. They want the regulator to require that equipment such as pressure and volume monitors, and emergency shut offs, be installed.

The Zama City spill follows other recent big spills in Alberta. In April, Plains Midstream Canada was charged with releasing 4.5 million litres of oil into wetlands near the Lubicon Cree hamlet of Little Buffalo. The spill occurred two years before.

Apache says there was only a trace amount of oil in the produced water that spilled near Zama City. It has plugged the leak, and says that there is no public danger. They are working together with Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board and other agencies to remediate the site and ensure “any environmental effects are minimized.”

The ERCB said it will be conducting an investigation into the cause of the incident, and will publish a public report once the investigation is complete.

All this comes at a time when oil and gas companies are pushing to construct major new pipelines across Canada, such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline from the oilsands to Kitimat on the coast of British Columbia.

On June 17, a new organization was launched to take over the governance of Alberta’s energy sector from the Energy Resources Conservation Board. The new organization is the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). Its chief executive officer, Jim Ellis, says it will balance “the need for consistency and regulatory certainty while bringing new environmental regulatory responsibilities into the AER.”

Further, according to the release the Alberta Energy Regulator will ensure “the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of hydrocarbon resources over their entire life cycle.” Its role will include allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment, “while providing economic benefits for all Albertans.”