Cold Lake Alberta oil spill is ‘unstoppable’

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

The Alberta oil sands are either a curse or a blessing, depending on your point of view

For some Canadians (and American guest-workers) the Alberta oil sands mean long-term employment with good wages, and the chance to raise a family in Canada’s north which, if you can tolerate the cold winters, is a beautiful place to raise an outdoors-oriented family, spending the weekends with your kids exploring the thousands of square kilometres of snowy mountains on snowmobiles, hitting the touristy ski slopes, and photographing sweeping prairie vistas.

For others though, the exploitation of Canada’s oil sands are a blight on the collective conscience of all Canadians and a black eye on Canada’s otherwise good reputation among nations.

Image courtesy:
Alberta Primrose oil spill — 6000 barrels of oil seep to the surface every two days, and officials concede there is no known way of stopping it — other than just waiting for it to stop. Image courtesy:


The battle for, or against, the harvesting of the oil sands resource see-saws back and forth. It is has turned into an epic battle between oil companies and environmentalists spanning decades of time, and very clear battle lines between the two groups were drawn long ago.

Renewed interest in the oil sands fight began in 2010, with news that Canada was allowing Chinese companies to purchase multi-billion dollar Canadian and American oil companies which operate in the oil sands region.

And when talks began with the European Union on a massive Free Trade deal between Canada and the EU in 2012, the oil sands business once more came under the media spotlight.

This time, the spotlight is on an ‘unstoppable’ oil spill near a Royal Canadian Air Force base, where the crude oil is bubbling up from deep underground at high pressure in four locations. One of the places where the oil is rising to the surface, is under a lake — which is making a mess of the once-pristine lake and adjoining forest, as more than 3 feet of oil floats on top of the lake and overflowing into the surrounding area.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on August 1, 2013 that; “Nearly 1 million litres of bitumen leaked into bush on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range” – and the company is reporting the spill as “contained” and will “seep small amounts of oil for years”.

How reassuring NOT!

After bursting to the surface under pressure, the oil mixes with snow, water, and organic materials on the forest floor and the whole oily mess tumbles downhill, creating small ‘rivers’ of oil, heading toward the larger rivers and lakes common in the region.

Cara Tobin; “With any incident the company would go to the site and identify the outer boundaries of the affected area.

There’s two things – one is control and one is containment.

What they have done, to the best of my knowledge, is that they have identified the outer extent of the impacted area, which is generally called delineation. I think they were finishing that process [Friday]. And so they are getting to know and rope off the outer extent of the impacted area.

So that’s one thing. And that’s basically containment… In this case, this is still an ongoing incident. There is no control on this incident.” – Cara Tobin, Office of Public Affairs spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator

If the employees of Canadian Natural Resource Limited (CNRL) hadn’t reported the leak to the media, it may have gone unreported.

The company in charge of the High-Pressure Cyclic Steam Stimulation (HPCSS) oil extraction process (where high-temperature steam in injected deep underground to separate the oil from the sand it is embedded with) at first reported only one spill from one site — saying it had begun leaking only days before. Now we find out four boreholes have been leaking for months.

The one thing you need to know about about ‘unstoppable’ oil spills is that until the underground pressure lowers, the oil will continue pouring out. This de-pressurization might take a month, or it may take 60 years. Nobody knows for certain. It will stop when it stops.

In the case that anyone thinks that this is a minor matter, the total amount of oil trapped in the oil sands is roughly equal to the remaining total oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. Not that all of it will suddenly burst forth from these four locations and empty the entire mess onto the landscape, but there is opportunity at least, for major ecological disaster. There are millions of barrels of underground oil and it is under pressure and connected to thousands of similar boreholes in the area, which is why the oil companies are there, and not somewhere else.

Over the weekend, some 6000 barrels of oil overflowed into 51 acres of forest and lake country, and in some places the oil is one metre deep.

With no end in sight, no available man-made solution, and no future plan to control what is admittedly an ‘unstoppable’ oil spill — all we can do is wait.

And this has happened just when it looked like the oil companies were winning the public relations battle…

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Braid: Redford has many more promises to keep | MY COMMENT

Braid: Redford has many more promises to keep The Calgary Herald
By: Don Braid January 12, 2012

MY COMMENT — The Premier of Alberta, Alison Redford is barely on the job 100 days. We should cut her some slack, don’t you think? Would you accept judgement after your first 100 days at a new job? Really?

Ideologue politicians are just as bad for their province as good for their province, it seems. This Premier doesn’t strike me as on of those, refreshingly, she seems to be a pragmatist.

Give her a fair chance to succeed and she will.

Now, what about those oil sands?

Do you agree we should highly-refine the oil sands in Alberta keeping all those jobs in western Canada?

Or should we just extract oil sands, and then just pipeline it away? “Look fast — there goes all the jobs!”

If we keep those thousands of permanent jobs here, (jobs which are not temporary pipeline construction jobs) it helps Alberta and BC in three important ways;

1) Many value-added products are created in western Canada, translating into thousands of jobs for Albertans.

2) The problem of pipeline or supertanker spills are completely eliminated.

3) Environmentalist’s will better accept modern, world-class refineries producing low-toxicity products relatively near the oil sands site – in exchange for eliminating toxic crude oil pipeline and supertanker spills. (Not all environmentalist’s, but most)

The world’s largest petroleum exporter, Saudi Arabia, is already doing this and creating thousands of permanent jobs:

It’s your call.

Terry Glavin: Canada sells the oilsands to China. Then complains about foreign interference! | MY COMMENT

Canada sells the oilsands to China. Then complains about foreign interference! — National Post
By:Terry Glavin  January 13, 2012

MY COMMENT — Must it always be about extreme positions? Why must it be only about eco-terrorists or big business? Can’t Canada, one of the most developed countries on Earth, extract this resource AND do it in the least harmful way to the environment? Of course we can!

We have world-class technology available now to reduce the impact on the environment, we have a majority government with the necessary expertise to enact legislation to promote more sustainable development and we have ever more billions of dollars being invested by the world’s most powerful countries.

It’s so simple. The government calls a meeting of all stakeholders, who decide upon the “best practices” available, enact legislation with teeth to that effect and invite anyone who doesn’t want to follow that legislation to leave Canada.

Transporting crude oil by pipeline and supertanker is the absolute worst-case scenario. There will be a spill on Canada’s pristine coastline and eventually in BC’s scenic interior.

A better plan from an environmental viewpoint, is to merely ship the raw tar sands product, in the same way that coal has been transported to Asia from BC and Alberta, for decades, with no problems.

Another way that will give Western Canada the opportunity for value-added product (more jobs) is to highly-refine the crude oil into a very clean, fully refined, low-toxicity product and ship it from near Vancouver — a much safer waterway than Kitimat.

In addition to this, tar sands can be highly-refined into ethane gas and sent to Kitimat by a clean gas pipeline and picked up by LNG tanker. LNG tankers are truly innocuous, compared to crude oil tankers. In case of leak, practically zero deaths of ocean life and little, if any destroyed land environment as would be the case with a crude oil spill, LNG merely evaporates into the air, unless ignited — so keep the gas pipeline 5 km back from any populated areas or highway/railway.

See, it’s simple. We merely need a better plan – than the one presently under consideration!