DICKSON, Alta. – People downstream of an oil pipeline breach in west central Alberta are worried but hopeful the spill won’t seriously damage the Red Deer River they depend on for water and recreation.
Andrew Van Oosten and his friends were hoping to go fishing Saturday but were told by Alberta Environment officials to stay away from the water.
“I was going to go fishing but they said, ‘No, you’re not allowed,'” he said as huddled with his friends underneath a tarp at his campsite near the Gleniffer reservoir.
“You are not allowed to go near the water because it (oil) is washing up on shore. I hope it just passes by in a week or two.”
Out on the lake that provides the water supply for the City of Red Deer and other communities downstream from Thursday’s spill, crews were busy spreading booms across the surface to skim away any sour crude.
Plains Midstream Canada estimates as much as 475,000 litres of oil spilled and then leaked into the river. The company says the oil spilled into Jackson Creek near the community of Sundre, about 100 kilometres from Red Deer.
In a news release Saturday, the company said the crude oil has been contained within two booms it placed on the Gleniffer Reservoir, and that an additional boom was being positioned on the west end of the reservoir to expedite the cleanup.
“We deeply regret any impact this incident may have on local residents,” the news release stated.
Randy Westergaard of the Gleniffer Lake Resort is doing his best to deal calmly with a calamity that came as residents prepare for the summer season. The marina has been closed until further notice, as have a number of campsites in the area.
The resort includes 750 recreation lots and permanent homes purchased by people who love to go boating, fish, or just enjoy the clean air and pretty views.
Westergaard credits the company for moving quickly to deal with the mess, including trucking in drinking water to the resort.
“All I can say is that Plains Midstream stepped up to the plate immediately and as far as I can see are doing everything in their power,” he said.
“Who is to blame? The government are the ones who gave them approval in the first place. It’s unfortunate it had to happen.”
Alberta Premier Alison Redford assured Albertans on Saturday that the co-ordination to deal with the spill has been moving quickly.
“There was some concern that if the weather was difficult today that there might be a challenge,” Redford told reporters in Edmonton, immediately after speaking at the city’s gay pride festival.
“My understanding is the weather hasn’t impacted it and everything is on course.”
“We’re seeing some good containment.”
Redford has said this latest oil spill has raised questions about how oil pipelines are monitored and regulated.
She has promised a full investigation and said if there are safety shortfalls the government will make changes.
This is the second recent serious spill for Plains Midstream. In April of last year a company pipeline in northwestern Alberta ruptured, leaking more than 4.5 million litres of oil. Just last week the company issued a release, showing clean up efforts near the spill are almost complete.
The Red Deer River spill comes at a time when Alberta-based pipelines such as Keystone XL in the proposed Northern gateway pipeline to the B.C. are under increasing public scrutiny.
Redford insisted on Saturday that the spills are not the norm.
“It’s actually an exception, if you think that we have hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipelines across this province. There has been a leak and it has been contained,” Redford said.
“We have pipelines that criss-cross this province that are intact and work.”
Between the spill site and the Dickson dam, Plains Midstream is building a base of operations headquarters to stage and direct the cleanup effort that is to come.
On Saturday, a long line of transport trucks dropped off supplies at the camp as cranes and bulldozers laid down prefabricated flooring on the wet ground. Office trailers were being set up and clean-up equipment was being stockpiled as a helicopter buzzed overhead.
A company official said there is no official time line on when the clean up is expected to be complete on the fast moving river, which has been swollen in recent days by heavy rain.
The company said Saturday that an information centre has been set up for residents at a community hall in James River.
Closer to Sundre, within a few kilometres of the breached pipeline, a film of black ooze coats grass along the remote shoreline of the river. In pools and puddles away from the main river the oil has pooled, discolouring the water.
Back at Van Oosten’s campsite he and his friends sit around a fire, chatting and drinking beer.
“I hope to get fishing soon,” he says.