On July 15, 2015, Chinese-owned Nexen Energy ULC discovered a pipeline rupture at its Long Lake oil-sands project, about 36 km south of Fort McMurray.
The spill released five million litres of bitumen emulsion – a mixture of bitumen, water and sand – onto the pipeline’s right of way, covering an area of about 16,000 square metres.
Since the company’s computerized monitoring system failed to detect the breach, it isn’t known how long the substance was leaking.
According to a story published in The Globe and Mail on July 22, Nexen Energy ULC revealed the pipeline could have been leaking for more than two weeks.
The oil spill is now considered one of the largest leaks in Alberta history and has added to the concerns over pipeline safety in Northern B.C.
“What makes it worse is that the pipeline in question [Nexen Energy’s pipeline] was a newly built pipeline,” said Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam. “This is the reason we [Lake Babine Nation] will never endorse or support heavy oil through our territory.”
Wet’suwet’en Chief Karen Ogen spoke on behalf of the Yinka Dene Alliance – a coalition of First Nations in Northern B.C. committed to ban Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipelines from their territories.
Ogen said Nexen Energy’s oil spill gives people even more reasons to be worried about oil pipelines.
“It builds our case even further,” she said. “We need more assurances of a safer method to deliver oil; its impacts on the environment are devastating and we can’t risk that at this time.”
In 2010, Enbridge Inc. proposed the construction of a 1200-kilometre pipeline from Bruderheim, A.B., to Kitimat, B.C. In June, 2014, the Canadian government accepted the project’s proposal, but imposed 209 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board.
Suzanne Wilton, Enbridge’s Spokesperson, said Enbridge uses state-of-the-art monitors that would prevent similar spills from happening.
“At Enbridge, our service depends on preventing problems before they happen,” she said. “We take a holistic approach that begins with the planning and design of our pipelines and facilities and continues with our operations and monitoring which includes multiple layers of protection built into the system.”
“We operate a state-of-the art control centre that monitors our pipelines 24/7 and uses advanced inspection techniques and leading edge technology to ensure the fitness and safety of our pipelines,” she added.
There are currently eighteen consolidated legal challenges to the federal approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. The cases are scheduled to be heard at the federal court of appeal in Vancouver on Oct. 1-2 and 5-8, 2015.