Alberta residents angry after oil spills into nearby lake

Emergency crews are on the scene today cleaning up to 3,000 barrels of light sour crude oil that spilled into a central Alberta waterway.

Premier Alison Redford promises a full investigation into the spill

Fishing, boating and swimming is currently not allowed on Gleniffer Lake after it was contaminated by oil from a ruptured pipeline in the nearby Red Deer River. (Plains Midstream Canada)

Shock and frustration are two feelings hanging heavily over residents living near an oil spill in central Alberta. 

Emergency crews are on the scene Friday cleaning up to 3,000 barrels of light sour crude oil released into the Red Deer River near Sundre, Alta.

Cleanup crews are also working to contain the product that flowed into the nearby Gleniffer Lake and Reservoir, which feeds drinking water to several communities in the area.

Sundre Petroleum Operators Group says it notified Plains Midstream Canada's 24-hour control centre in Olds, Alta., last night around 8:40 p.m. local time after finding out about the spill.

Stephen Bart, vice president of crude oil operations for Plains Midstream Canada, said it's too early to tell how long the cleanup will take. The company's first priority is to contain the spill and then it will assess the situation, says Bart.

"At this time it's difficult to speculate," he said. "The spill happened last night, so it's hard to assess the size."

Bart said they are doing all they can to minimize the environmental impacts.

"We don't believe the release poses any potential threat to water quality and or residence," he said, but added they will continue to monitor the situation.

He said drinking water has been brought in for local resort operators.

Residents upset after yet another spill in the area

Overflow from Red Deer River, north of Sundre. A tributary feeding the river was contaminated with oil earlier this week. (Isabelle Damphousse/CBC)

But for local resident Chris Huhn it’s also a feeling of déjà vu as the exact area saw an oil spill of 125 barrels in April 2008. 

"I just hope this beautiful lake isn’t going to be wrecked with this terrible spill," he said, adding many of his neighbours are concerned.

Huhn was driving home around 11 p.m. Thursday after cultivating his field when he started to smell a strong odour in the air.

He called the Energy Resource Conservation Board (ERCB) emergency hotline and was told there was an oil spill in the area.

He said he was shocked and wonders how much of the Gleniffer Reservoir is contaminated — especially since the nearby Dickson Dam was left open until the morning after the spill.

"I know we need the oil, but at what cost," he asked. "This is the drinking water for the City of Red Deer and we’re gambling with it."

Company says no health risk

The Dickson Dam near the Gleniffer Reservoir is now closed after an oil spill contamination. (Carla Beynon/CBC )

Plains Midstream Canada says light sour crude oil has a strong petroleum odour but it does not pose a health or safety risk to the public.

There is no word yet on whether the spill will threaten the quality of drinking water downstream in Red Deer, but city officials are "monitoring the situation."

Air quality and water quality are being monitored with help from Alberta Health Services and residents will be notified of any changes.

Some individuals may experience temporary odour-related irritation and AHS advises those people call Health Link Alberta for advice.

AHS spokersperson Bruce Conway said water sampling has been done at the lake both prior to the dam and at the intake for the water treatment plant and lab results were expected late Friday.

Officials alerted of spill Thursday night

Containment efforts are underway at Glennifer Lake by Dickson Dam, a reservoir for the water supply for the City of Red Deer. (Carla Beynon/CBC)

After the spill was discovered Thursday night, Plains' pipeline operations in the area were shut down and valves were closed to isolate area pipelines. The ERCB, Alberta Environment and AHS are all involved in the cleanup effort.

"Once again we have a major spill go unnoticed by a pipeline company, this time flowing directly into a major waterway," said Mike Hudema, a Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner.

"How many times does this have to happen before governments stop accepting the company's assurances that they are taking environmental protection seriously? We need a full public review of pipeline safety especially before new pipelines carrying even more corrosive substances are approved.

"As this latest incident proves, it's a question of when spills and ruptures will happen, and create the next ecological disaster, not if."

Plains Midstream says aircraft are being dispatched to survey the scene and the cause of the pipeline spill is under investigation.

The spill comes as the company continues to clean up an April 2011 pipeline spill of 4.5 million litres of oil northeast of Peace River, Alta.

Wildrose Environment Critic Joe Anglin said Friday the spill is further evidence that the current Alberta government has failed to effectively monitor and enforce industry regulations.

"We have procedures and protocols in place to prevent these incidents from ever happening and this government is known for not properly following them," Anglin said in a release. "Our regulations are no good unless we have the boots on the ground to enforce them. There's no reason why these kinds of spills should be occurring in Alberta."

Premier defends pipeline regulations

Premier Alison Redford said while many questions will be asked over the coming days about Alberta's pipeline infrastructure she feels Alberta has an internationally recognized pipeline system supported by a strong regulatory framework.

Redford visited the oil spill site Friday afternoon and said that risks come with economic development.

"We do always in Alberta want to ensure that we're balancing economic development, environmental sustainability and social outcomes. And there's no doubt that when we have economic development that there are certainly in some cases impacts."

Redford said Albertans and others should know these spills don't happen often and the province is equipped to deal with them.

"This incident will be investigated and the Ministers of Energy and Environment and Sustainable Resource Development will review the findings and take further action if required," she said.

"I want to assure residents living along the Red Deer River and Glennifer Lake areas that all necessary resources are being deployed to contain the leak and clean it up."

For updates, residents are being told to check the City of Red Deer's website or the Plains Midstream Canada website .

Sundre is about 100 kilometres west of Red Deer.

With files from The Canadian Press