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We'll 'make it right', oil spill company vows 0

Michael Platt, QMI Agency
The Red Deer River is seen in an aerial photo taken after a pipeline carrying crude started spilling oil into a tributary creek near Sundre, Alberta on June 8, 2012. (Photo courtesy of Global Calgary)

The Red Deer River is seen in an aerial photo taken after a pipeline carrying crude started spilling oil into a tributary creek near Sundre, Alberta on June 8, 2012. (Photo courtesy of Global Calgary)

GLENIFFER LAKE, Alta. -- The oil company officials speak in comforting terms, using words like "small," "containment" and "minimize," in a predictable attempt to soothe fears and calm the anger.

Just a few metres away, on the banks of this muddy, Central Alberta reservoir, the hum of machinery and dozens of scurrying workers highlight a massive cleanup operation, one that belies the official calm.

There are more than 100 people from 25 companies scrambling around Gleniffer Lake, trying to minimize damage from a spill that sounds small in barrels -- just 3,000 -- but is huge when it's your water that's oily.

"The good news is that the pipeline wasn't flowing as the time of the release, so the volume of the spill is relatively small," said Stephen Bart, vice-president of crude oil operations for Plains Midstream Canada.

Relatively small, but still devastating.

It takes 500,000 litres to fill an Olympic swimming pool. The crude that escaped a 46-year-old pipeline along the Red Deer River has oozed an estimated 480,000 litres into the Gleniffer Lake water system.

It's brutal timing, given Alberta's attempts to convince the world we can transport our oil safely via pipelines, just like the one that failed near here.

But what makes this so much worse is where the leak is, being right under the noses of Alberta's major cities. It's an area used by many for recreation, on a reservoir providing water to 100,000 people.

Spills happen -- Plains Midstream itself is still cleaning up from last spring's 4.5 million-litre oil leak in a remote area northeast of Peace River, Alta. -- but this one is way too public for a quiet, gradual cleanup.

It's a headache that could prove a long-term nightmare for Alberta's oil industry, with so many impacted and so many media outlets just an hour or two away from covering the ongoing story.

The only thing that was crystal clear on the southern end of Gleniffer Lake on Sunday is that lasting scrutiny.

The oil spill story won't go away until this oil spill really goes away, completely and without a trace.

Plains Midstream apparently gets that. Bart ended Sunday's short press conference with a vow to "make it right" for residents and businesses around the lake, located just west of Innisfail, Alta.

"Absolutely. We will ensure that the impact to water and land is completely cleaned up," Bart said. "And we will address any impacts this might have with landowners."

The latest word from the company is that the oil is held behind two booms; that so far, no wildlife has officially been found impacted by the crude, and that cleanup is already underway.

"We were able to achieve primary containments in the lake within 12 hours of the release," Bart said.

The company said landowners around the lake have all been contacted and the firm is now going door to door to speak with people along the river, promising a complete cleanup.

There is a information centre operating for concerned residents and a website: plainsresponds.com.

In all, it's a massive mop-up operation -- both in terms of spilled oil and in terms of oil industry public relations. It's been described by the provinces as one of the fastest responses to an Alberta spill, ever.

But for those living around the lake and along the river -- where dead fish can be seen amidst banks of black goo -- it could be a very long summer.

That's how long provincial officials said it will take to clean up the mess.

"It's really hard at this point to estimate -- we probably expect the majority of the summer on the river to make something happen here," said Martin Bundred, emergency response officer with Alberta Environment.

Bundred says an investigation into Plains Midstream's operations is underway, but the province is optimistic the damage is minor.

"I don't know if we anticipate any impacts," Bundred said.

"We think there was such a flow of water coming through -- we're in a flood stage on the river -- that we don't expect to see much in the way of severe impacts."

michael.platt@sunmedia.ca


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