By LINDSAY DUCHARME, Connect Contributor
Though the Nexen Energy’s pipeline failure at Long Lake was discovered on July 15, T2015, little information as to the causes and full impact of the spill have been released. One thing government officials, industry reps and community leaders can agree on is that the response to the spill has been immediate, strong and continuous.
The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), an independent organization, which overseas safe, efficient and environmentally responsible development of hydrocarbon resources, is currently conducting a complete investigation of the Long Lake pipeline failure, including equipment, reporting and safety measures.
On July 25, 2015, representatives from industry, government, First Nations and the media toured the spill site. The tour provided a glimpse at the site itself, as well as the expansive cleanup and investigation efforts.
“Our government came together today with #468 First Nations to meet with the Alberta Energy Regulator and Nexen because we share a deep concern for the spill that has happened here,” said Alberta Minister of Energy Marg McCuaig-Boyd, on the day of the tour.
“Spills like this are unacceptable. As the minister of energy I am concerned, as an Albertan I’m concerned. We all want to know that when an incident like this occurs not only is it contained and cleaned up but that every possible effort is made to find out what went wrong and fix it, and prevent it from happening again here or anywhere else in Alberta.”
McCuaig-Boyd said that the spill has also provided an important opportunity to form stronger relationships with First Nations by including them throughout the clean up and investigation process.
“We agree that First Nations have to be involved as partners in emergencies like this. A key focus of the discussions we are having today concern where gaps in communication with the Fort McMurray First Nations may have occurred and how we can better work together to close those gaps.”
“These are not ideal circumstances for a first meeting. We agree it is important for us to come together and share knowledge and information about how best to move forward,” she added.
Byron Bates, councilor, Fort McMurray #468 First Nations echoed McCuaig’s sentiments calling the interaction and attention from government administrators as “encouraging.”
Bates said he, along with members of First Nations, are withholding final judgment on the spill pending the release of the AER’s incident report.
“I visited the spill site today and it’s much different (than a week ago), (it’s) very reactive. I went out last Friday (July 17, 2015) and saw the spill site and there was a lot of activity, a lot more measures to keep animals out and a lot more reactively sucking contaminated water out, but there’s still two big football fields of black goo. It’s still very disturbing. We look forward to a full incident report and the sharing of that.”
“There are members of my First Nations who can’t even watch the news when they see this spill site, they are afraid. People are connected to the land so it really affects them,” he continued.
Calling the AER’s investigation in the “very early” stages, Kirk Bailey, executive vice president operations, Alberta Energy Regulator explained that the AER is working hard to determine the cause of the spill and appropriate outcomes moving forward.
“The potential outcomes of this from this investigation could be anywhere from administrative penalties to enforcement action to criminal charges, so we have all those options in mind as we are analyzing the information and making decisions about the investigation.”
The size of the spill is estimated to be 5,000 m3 of emulsion, over an area of approximately 16,000 m2 mostly within a compacted pipeline corridor.
For up-to-date information on the spill and investigation, visit Nexen’s site, which is currently updated daily: www.nexencnoocltd.com/en/Operations/OilSands/PipelineFailure.aspx.