Environmentalists and First Nations are concerned that effluent might still be seeping from a north eastern Alberta oilsands plant years after cleanup of a leak was considered complete.
In 2013, about seven-thousand barrels of bitumen emulsion leaked at four sites at the Canadian Natural Resources Primrose project. At the time CNRL said the leaks were caused by faulty engineering on old wells. But a report from the Alberta Energy Regulator blames excessive steaming and has put new restrictions on high pressure steam extraction at Primrose.
Chris Severson-Baker with the Pembina Institute tells Global news they remain concerned. “It raises questions about whether or not this technology should be used at all to extract oil from the oilsands. Hopefully, this is not the kind of technology that is used in any new operations in Alberta.”
Kirk Bailey with the Alberta Energy Regulator tells Global News there’s no need to expand restrictions beyond the Primrose operation. “There’s no consequences for any other companies. As incidents happen and we learn from these events we certainly incorporate that new knowledge into the requirements for new projects and new developments.
Severson-Baker is worried there are too many unknowns. “The company didn’t know what it was doing when it originally designed the project. And the regulator didn’t know what it was approving when it approved the project.” Bailey disagrees. “We have done the broader scan to look at other operators and how they’re developing this resource and we’re confident that the operations that are currently underway today can proceed safely and without incident.”
Surface water collected near the four fissures in the ground continues to show an oily sheen. The AER says a fifth, which first leaked in 2009, stills oozes small amounts of fresh bitumen.
The Beaver Lake Cree First Nation has had concerns about the site since 2008 and is in court seeking access to the land which is within the band’s traditional territory.