By The Canadian Press
Crews were scrambling Friday to contain and clean up a pipeline spill that is believed to have sent up to 475,000 litres of crude oil flowing into a rain-swollen Red Deer River system in west-central Alberta.
Plains Midstream Canada says when the spill was discovered Thursday night it closed off its network of pipelines in the area.
Tracey McCrimmon, executive director of a community group that works with the industry, said it was rural homeowners who first raised the alarm about an oil pipeline spill.
She said people who live just north of Sundre phoned in reports Thursday night of smelling rotten eggs — the telltale odour of sour gas or sour oil.
“The first call that we got was at 8:40 pm. There was an odour complaint. We had multiple calls of a rotten egg smell,” said McCrimmon, director of the Sundre Petroleum Operators Group.
“We called all of the oil and gas operators within six kilometres of the area. They were able to source the odour within an hour.”
The company said the oil spilled into Jackson Creek near the community of Sundre, about 100 kilometres from Red Deer. Jackson Creek flows into the Red Deer River.
Recent heavy rains have swollen streams and rivers in the area, some to near flood stage, and local officials are concerned the oil will spread more quickly down the system.
“There’s oil in the river and the river is moving very quickly right now because of the recent rains and meltwater,” said Bruce Beattie, reeve of Mountain View County, which is on the river system.
“Certainly anything that is coming out of the pipeline or that did come out of the pipeline is certainly moving quickly down stream.
“It’s going to be a major environmental concern for sure.”
The region around Sundre is considered pristine wilderness by many in Alberta. It’s a common getaway area for people in Calgary and popular with anglers and hunters. The area where the oil spilled is sparsely populated and mostly ranch land.
Alberta Environment spokeswoman Jessica Potter said communities and individuals downstream of the spill have been told not to use river water until further notice.
“Residents in the area have been notified that a spill has taken place,” she said.
“Water intakes have been shut at all facilities downstream and we are encouraging people to shut-in their water and not draw from the river at this time.”
Premier Alison Redford headed to nearby Dixon Dam to hold a news conference Friday afternoon where she said the spill had been contained to the Glennifer reservoir and crews were working to minimize the environmental impact.
She said there will be an investigation but added that Alberta’s pipeline system is supported by a strong regulatory framework that serves as a model for other jurisdictions.
“It’s my expectation that the minister of environment and the minister of energy, as well as the (Energy Resources Conservation Board), will have to review those investigations once they’re completed to determine the cause of this incident and then to take whatever steps might need to be taken in order to prevent this in the future.”
She said until the investigation is complete, it’s too early to say whether aging infrastructure is to blame.
“Albertans have an expectation that the infrastructure that we have in place … is strong,” she said.
“It is unfortunate when these events happen. We are fortunate in this province that they don’t happen very often, and we can have some confidence that when they do happen, we have plans in place to deal with them.”
But Mike Hudema of Greenpeace said the damage has already been done to the central Alberta ecosystem. He wants a halt to approval of any new pipelines until changes and upgrades can be made to the existing infrastructure.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said changes need to be made to existing laws.
“I don’t think we’re paying adequate attention to what happens in real life versus what happens in the fossil fuel wonderland where everything goes wrong,” she said.