‘Every Plant And Tree Died’: Huge Alberta Pipeline Spill Raises Safety Questions As Keystone Decision Looms

A section of the 100-plus acres contaminated by toxic waste in northern Alberta (Credit: Nathan Vanderklippe/Dene Tha)

As the Obama administration’s decision regarding whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline draws nearer, the latest disaster is raising serious concerns about the safety of Canada’s rapidly expanding pipeline network.

A massive toxic waste spill from an oil and gas operation in northern Alberta is being called one of the largest recent environmental disasters in North America. First reported on June 1, the Texas-based Apache Corp. didn’t reveal the size of the spill until June 12, which is said to cover more than 1,000 acres.

Members of the Dene Tha First Nation tribe are outraged that it took several days before they were informed that 9.5 million liters of salt and heavy-metal-laced wastewater had leaked onto wetlands they use for hunting and trapping.

“Every plant and tree died” in the area touched by the spill, said James Ahnassay, chief of the Dene Tha.

As the Globe and Mail reports, the Apache disaster is not an anomaly:

The leak follows a pair of other major spills in the region, including 800,000 litres of an oil-water mixture from Pace Oil and Gas Ltd., and nearly 3.5 million litres of oil from a pipeline run by Plains Midstream Canada.

After those accidents, the Dene Tha had asked the Energy Resources Conservation Board, Alberta’s energy regulator, to require installation of pressure and volume monitors, as well as emergency shutoff devices, on aging oil and gas infrastructure. The Apache spill has renewed calls for change.

Following initial speculation that the leak stemmed from aging infrastructure, officials from Apache Corp. revealed that the pipeline was only five years old and had been designed to last for 30.

The incident comes on the heels of accusations from the provincial New Democratic Party that Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes is withholding the results of an internal pipeline safety report pending the U.S. government’s decision regarding Keystone XL. The report was commissioned last summer by Alberta Energy following a series of toxic spills — including the Plains Midstream Canada spill that leached 475,000 liters of oil into the Red Deer River, a major source of drinking water for central Alberta.

According to Winnipeg Free Press, “an engineering firm completed the technical report last fall and presented the findings to the government, which sent the findings to the Energy Resources Conservation Board for a review that was to be completed by March 31.”

Hughes denied delaying the report but declined to give a release date, saying only that it would come “fairly soon.”

A recent Global News investigation found that over the past 37 years, Alberta’s extensive network of pipelines has experienced 28,666 crude oil spills in total, plus another 31,453 spills of a variety of other liquids used in oil and gas production — from salt water to liquid petroleum. That averages out to two crude oil spills a day, every day.

As concerns mount over Apache’s delay in detecting and reporting its extensive toxic waste spill, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that TransCanada is not planning to use the external leak detection tools recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency for its proposed Keystone XL pipeline. As a result, the State Department concludes “Keystone XL would have to be spilling more than 12,000 barrels a day — or 1.5 percent of its 830,000 barrel capacity — before its currently planned internal spill-detection systems would trigger an alarm.”

36 Responses to ‘Every Plant And Tree Died’: Huge Alberta Pipeline Spill Raises Safety Questions As Keystone Decision Looms

  1. Superman1 says:

    “A recent Global News investigation found that over the past 37 years, Alberta’s extensive network of pipelines has experienced 28,666 crude oil spills in total, plus another 31,453 spills of a variety of other liquids used in oil and gas production — from salt water to liquid petroleum. That averages out to two crude oil spills a day, every day.” Which should give you some indication as to how concerned they will be over the latest spill.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    “As the Obama administration’s decision regarding” … “Keystone XL” .. “draws nearer”

    As Obama’s decision regarding KXL draws nearer — although it’s still likely to be months away — we should seriously consider this difference: the major difference between a scenario in which Hillary Clinton makes clear to the public what she would do (how she would rule) on Keystone XL if she were president BEFORE Obama has to make his final decision; and (on the other hand) a scenario in which Hillary stays silent or vague about Keystone XL and then comments on or criticizes Obama’s decision after-the-fact or simply avoids the KXL issue entirely and speaks only in vague terms about climate change in general as she continues her run for the Democratic nomination.

    When I urge that we should begin to press Hillary Clinton to clarify and state her concrete position on climate change, including on Keystone XL among other things, ASAP!, some people respond by saying that it should be obvious by now that words spoken by politicians are meaningless, and that pressing for clarifying words is consequently a futile act.

    To that I respond, the credibility of “speech acts” does depend, somewhat, on the context, circumstances, and timing in which they are made. Of course actions speak louder than words. And of course words spoken by politicians must be taken with a huge grain of salt, and sometimes disregarded entirely. But, for example, if Hillary Clinton were to announce up-front — that is, before Obama makes his own official decision — that she would not approve Keystone XL if she were president, the timing, circumstances, clarity, and courage of such an announcement would demonstrate something important much more so than any after-the-fact comments she might make (which would have to be taken as nearly meaningless) or than mere silence on the subject. My point is that it’s NOT the case that any and all words from Hillary Clinton on the subject should be taken as utterly and equally meaningless: there ARE a few ways that she COULD demonstrate real leadership regarding climate change (or not!) in advance of the Democratic primary. Consequently, if Democrats/progressives don’t want to end up in a position (again) of having nominated someone who will not lead with respect to climate change, and if we don’t want to have to choose our nominee on the basis of easy and hollow words made in circumstances that don’t really demonstrate leadership or courage, it follows that we should press Hillary to be clear about her position and demonstrate leadership NOW, in circumstances where doing so would demonstrate (and begin to build) credibility, as a test (on our part) of who she is and where she stands.

    I hope this message is clear and speaks for itself.



  3. Dan Miller says:

    Hillary already had a chance to make a stand against the KXL while she was Secretary of State, but she did not do so.

  4. Superman1 says:

    ” if Hillary Clinton were to announce up-front — that is, before Obama makes his own official decision — that she would not approve Keystone XL if she were president,” Why in the world would she do that; if she were the candidate, the climate change ‘fighters’ would have no other real option; who would they vote for: Mitt II?

  5. Jacob says:

    It is clear that in spite of their seeming support of green/clean technology the democrats are paying lip service to protecting the environment. They might–and I stress might–be better than the GOP, but that is not saying much. Both parties and the politicians within them are no friend of the American people (or the rest of humanity).

  6. BobbyL says:

    Why in the world are we talking about the 2016 election? We don’t even know who is going to run. There must be a better way to use our time. What about fighting for a strong agreement at the 2015 international climate meeting and one that will be implemented way before 2020 as is now the plan?

  7. There is a tradition of Secretaries of State steering clear of commenting on domestic issues.

  8. Brianna Amore says:

    I used to live in Alberta. It’s a toxic waste dump.

  9. Brooks Bridges says:

    The Arctic is on schedule to be ice free in Sept 2015 and the US Government is concerned about civil unrest due to climate change and oil peak problems in 2015 and you’re worried about Hillary in 2016?

    I suggest moving your concerns to the present.

  10. rose deprospero says:

    If we made the whiny oil and gas babies pay for the cleanup (where do you put it then?), I don’t believe we would have this “reckless” behavior. ???… After all, they are the ones raking in the money.

  11. Robert says:

    More info some might be interested in.
    “Suncor Energy Inc , the largest producer from Canada’s oil sands, said on Friday that it has extended the time period between major maintenance shutdowns at its northern Alberta project site to every five years from its prior four-year standard.” Reuters

  12. BobbyL says:

    I think there are huge differences between the Democrats and Republicans when it comes to the environment. The GOP is constantly trying to roll back regulations, gut the EPA, privatize everything in sight, and recently has become a national party of global warming deniers. In contrast, the Democrats continue to fight for regulations, support the EPA, and acknowledge the threat of global warming, and in some instances in very stark terms. These parties could hardly be more different when it comes to environmental issues.

  13. Jacob says:

    Just remember that when this Democratic administration approves Keystone XL (I hope it doesn’t happen, but I’m not naïve enough to think it isn’t possible).

    At one point it was Republicans that set aside land for national parks and established the EPA. Look at what has happened to them. The FF industry’s money speaks loudly and (inconceivably & against all common sense) walks proudly.

    How do you know if a politician is lying? Their lips are moving. Dem’s are no different than Rep’s, they might be better than Rep’s (as you’ve laid out), but that isn’t high praise.

  14. Gene Blodgett says:

    Just no sense being used. How can we allow such toxic sludge to destroy so much?

  15. Ziggy Pope says:

    Enbridge, the other irresponsible pipeline builder/operator, is big plans they are moving forward on.

    Their pipelines will cross a huge swath of lakes and rivers in northern MN from NW to SE borders to Duluth/Superior. Then across several great lakes and feeeder rivers into those great lakes, to Montreal. This includes a major aquifer in WI.

    Enbridge has yet to clean up their spill of tar sands sludge in MI.

    They too must be stopped! They will poison the Great Lakes!

  16. ludene says:

    i couldn’t agree more, and am shocked when democrats fold on any of these issues. what does obama need to think about ? this is a total disaster. i can’t believe the word ” no ” didn’t immediatly fly out of his mouth

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Those differences are mostly cosmetic, and for display purposes only. When push comes to shove, the Democrats support the money power that really rules in all capitalist states, just as slavishly as the Reptilians. Too obvious congruence between the ‘rivals’ and the Democrats might split, and the sane fraction of the US population might begin looking for a real alternative, like the Greens, but, unfortunately, decades too late.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There is a tradition of them steering clear of speaking the truth. Bi-partisan, of course.

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘We’ don’t. ‘We’ have no say. ‘They’ do not care, hating life and loving money instead.

  20. Dave says:

    Everyone who is in favor of the Keystone pipeline should have part of it go through their backyard and see how much they really love the devastation.

  21. Colorado Bob says:

    Given that it was 96F degrees 275 miles northwest of Anchorage, yesterday , everybody’s northern pipelines are going to be taxed even more.

  22. matt says:

    Why should they care? These oil execs and politicians have summer lodges at the edges of national parks, unspoiled and protected from the ravages of the oil industry. Its the little people who deal with pollution and environmental catastrophe. They take their helicopters up to their mountain lodges, pour themselves a drink, look out over their 10,000 acres of pristine property and think “What are all those people whining about?”

  23. J Johnson says:

    This is also an international issue. Canada is a foreign country.

  24. Trevor says:

    When the earth becomes a crisp cinder and the humans that destroyed it are just a memory, I hope the earth will return to the beautiful planet it once was.

  25. Merrelyn Emery says:

    First she cried, then she got angry. And then she unleashed a mighty storm the likes of which had never been seen before – and the land was clean again, ME

  26. Joshua Graciano says:

    If the oil sands are such a wonderful resource, why don’t they refine the bitumen in Alberta and export value added refined product? Canada has the capital and know how.

    As far as climate change goes, if the oil sand exploiters threw in the towel tomorrow, carbon emissions and warming would continue- we’d just get it from somewhere else. Reducing carbon usage is the result of 7 billion individual decisions on energy use.

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Jacob, I believe that you are quite correct. The Keystone decision was done and dusted long ago. The announcement is being delayed to draw out the agony, so that the sense of betrayal is heightened. Politics in the West has been dragged further and further Right since the 1970s, and the so-called ‘social democrats’ and ‘progressives’ of the Democratic Party, New Labour in the UK, and ‘Labor’ in New Zealand and Australia have sold out, comprehensively. Clinton, Bill, Obama, Blair, Rudd, Gillard, Hawke and Keating all sold out the best inclinations and ambitions of the best in society, and we now merely await the repercussions taking their inevitable course.

  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    For how much longer?

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    And put the Bosses responsible in the slammer- ‘Supermax’ preferably.

  30. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Oh, yeah! They hate the ‘little people’ muchly. Misanthropy is their highest good.

  31. Nabil Al-Murabit says:

    Personally, I don’t give a damn about the Keystone pipeline. That thing will be running through red states anyway and it’s konservatives that want it. It’ll be fun watching them beg for money for the klean up when that thing breetches

  32. Bob h says:

    Obama should make approval of the pipeline contingent on Congressional passage of a special excise tax on every barrel pumped, the proceeds to be used for implementation of Obamacare.

  33. No kidding! Totally agree.

  34. Artful Dodger says:

    Because Canada requires companies to pay a living wage and provide health care for it’s employees. Far better for profits to refine the oil in the Port Arthur, Texas free-trade area where the wages are low and the product can be exported without paying any U.S. federal taxes.

  35. ALFO says:

    spills will continue lies will grow
    money always cheats as well you know
    the rich will get richer the sick will get sicker,the trap is set, this oil is thicker