Plains Midstream Spill Impacts May be Permanent


Read this story from the Globe and Mail on the likely lingering effects of the ongoing Plains Midstream pipeline spill in Alberta. (June 12, 2012)

A sunny break from heavy wind and rain allowed crews to come out in force to battle an oil spill that has stained one of Alberta’s most important rivers – one that, environment officials warn, is likely to never be completely cleaned up.

Rough weekend weather and a flooded Red Deer River had impeded efforts to clean up a spill of 160,000 to 480,000 litres from a Plains Midstream Canada pipeline. But on Tuesday, a response team of nearly 200 workers set to work skimming, vacuuming and absorbing the spill.

It was difficult work, made worse by the high water that is hampering access to the 25 pools of oil that Plains crews have identified in back eddies along the 30 kilometres of river that stretch between the ruptured pipe and Lake Gleniffer, a reservoir whose dam has helped contain the spill.

“It’s been very, very difficult to access a lot of these areas because of the high flows, the very rapid current,” said Martin Bundred, the lead man on the spill for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources Development. “We have to use airboats to get in [and there are] lots of sandbars lots of obstacles – whole trees coming down the river. It’s not a nice place to be.”

In fact, the challenges of cleaning an oil-stained river are so great that it’s unlikely that all of the oil will be cleaned up. Some will deliberately be left alone to degrade naturally, an unwelcome prospect for those whose backyards and pasture lands along the Red Deer have been blackened from the leak.

“There are situations where it does make sense to leave things in place,” said Mr. Bundred. In this case, “with a very light crude, you’re going to get degradation very quickly.”

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