Enrbidge's burst pipeline near the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, 2010

More BS than Bitumen Flowing From Alberta After Third Recent Spill


A story in yesterday’s Edmonton Journal on the latest pipeline spill in Alberta, this one near Elk Point, was more full of crap than the province’s rivers and farms are full of oil these days.

This spill, from Enbridge’s 541-kilometre Athabasca Pipeline – which officials are pegging at 230,000 litres of diluted bitumen – comes on the heels of two others in less than a month, including the Plains Midstream spill just last week near Sundre and Pace Oil and Gas’ well leak near Rainbow Lake in late May. Of course, that was Plains Midstream’s second disaster since April, when its Rainbow pipeline produced the province’s largest leak in 36 years.

In other words, it’s been a bad couple of months for an industry trying to win over public opinion for two major bitumen pipelines proposed to traverse British Columbia (Enbridge and Kinder Morgan). This dizzying succession of spills has seriously complicated what was a tough sell to begin with.

But you wouldn’t know it from the stream of public relations bs flowing from Alberta politicians and industry reps in yesterday’s Journal story.

Here’s Darin Barter, spokesman for the Energy Resources Conservation Board:

Having the incidents so close together is unusual and not indicative of Alberta’s level of safety,” Barter said.

“Given the enormous amount of oil and gas infrastructure in this province, it’s a very safe system.”

He said the recent spills are “very different incidents.”

Phew! One’s a well leak, another a burst pipeline, this one a leaky pump station. So the sheer variety of ways these things can screw up is reassuring, if I understand you correctly, Darin?

Or how about Enbridge’s official comment on the subject, from spokesman Graham White via email Wednesday:“The vast majority of the spill is on the site and there is no impact to waterways or wildlife.” No impact to waterways…really? That’s right. Because, you see, “The area affected is our pump station site, some area along the pipeline right-of-way that is also (owned by) Enbridge and part of a local field.” (A field not owned by Enbridge, incidentally).

And fields don’t have water tables beneath them, which in turn don’t connect with nearby rivers and streams. So Mr. White must be right. Nothing to see here folks.

Then again, we should not be surprised by Mr. White’s attitude. His company has, after all, been quite up front about the fact they do spill a lot of oil and will continue right on doing so.

Mike Diesling, press secretary for Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes, feels the same way. According to him, Alberta has a “good” pipeline system. “The problem is we have 400,000 kilometres of pipeline and occasionally, we will have a spill,” Deising said.

According to the Journal, the province’s premier isn’t too concerned either:

Premier Alison Redford said pipeline spills “happen sometimes” and are part of balancing social and economic factors.

“I think people have a pretty good appreciation of the fact that there does need to be a balance and it is unfortunate when these things happen,” Redford said.

Yes, we do understand that it is terribly unfortunate when these things happen, Madame Premier, but what “balance”? Balance between oil spilling and not spilling?

So, if I have this straight, when you have a whole lot of pipelines carrying a whole lot of oil, you are bound to get spills. Check. And when these spills happen, they’re not a big problem, because…well, spills happen.

The message from Alberta’s oil intelligentsia is, then: “Oil spills happen, but don’t worry, because oil spills happen.”

Are we clear? About as clear as the black sludge the keep spilling all over the place.


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

6 thoughts on “More BS than Bitumen Flowing From Alberta After Third Recent Spill

  1. Keep up the great work, Damien. We truly live in the Age of Stupid. Time to clean house in provincial and federal politics.

  2. Hey Damian. The next time you get to talk to an oil company executive could you ask him what the plan is for when the oil sands run dry, or when there is no more carbon based fuel on the planet??
    By the way, nice work on the above article??

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