Oil spill 25 per cent recovered: minister

Alberta's environment minister says the oil from a pipeline spill in the northern part of the province is 25 per cent recovered.

Area residents fearful after spill, says MLA

The break in the 44-year-old pipeline spilled 28,000 barrels of crude last week. ((Briar Stewart/CBC))

Alberta's environment minister says the oil from a pipeline spill in the northern part of the province is 25 per cent recovered.

Speaking to reporters after a tour of the site on Saturday morning, Rob Renner said the spill is contained and crews are using vacuum trucks to clean up the oil. There are about 300 people working 24 hours a day to clean up the spill.

Earlier this week, 4.5 million litres of crude oil  spilled out of Plains Midstream Canada's Rainbow pipeline near Peace River, Alta. The 44-year-old pipeline runs 772 kilometres from Zama, Alta., to Edmonton. The spill killed seven beavers, seven ducks and one migratory bird.

In a written release, government officials said oil was being skimmed from a pond in the area, and impacted woody debris from the beaver pond was being removed. In addition, contaminated soil was being taken to an approved waste disposal facility.

The cause of the spill has not been determined, but Renner said it might be linked to two recent maintenance jobs on the same stretch of pipe.

Renner said the cost of the cleanup will fall on the company responsible for the pipeline, Plains Midstream Canada.

He admitted there were lessons to be learned from the spill, and said there needs to be better communication if and when spills happen in the future. He said it's not likely the incident will result in changes to policy, but that depends on the outcome of the ongoing investigation.

Residents want explanation

The MLA for the area near a pipeline spill in northern Alberta is calling on the company responsible to speak directly to the residents affected.

Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen says her constituents in nearby Little Buffalo, Alta., are still fearful of what the effects of the spill might be.

A school in Little Buffalo, about 30 kilometres from the spill, has been closed for a week. People living in the area have reported getting headaches, feeling nauseous and smelling a strong petroleum odour.

Calahasen urged the Calgary-based company to offer residents an explanation.

"They've been notified generally but they don't know the specifics and I think that's what they would like to hear … just so that they're very comfortable as to what's happening on the cleanup," she said.

"I think that's a very vital component — what's going to happen on the cleanup and what is the residual effect of their lives."

Calahasen wants the meeting to happen well before the pipeline is put back in service.

Plains Midstream Canada has applied to the ERCB to reopen the line but a spokesperson for the regulator said investigators are still analyzing the section of broken pipeline.

'Finish cleaning this up'

Meanwhile, members of the Lubicon First Nation say the spill should be cleaned up entirely before oil starts flowing through the pipeline again.

The 28,000 barrels of crude oil were spilled on Lubicon traditional territory.

Band councillor Bryan Laboucan is worried the pipeline could fail again.

"They were saying they could reopen it at any time they want now as long as it meets its integration tests," he said. "What if it happens a few miles away again? They should finish this cleaning up right to the end, and then open the lines."

Plains Midstream Canada president David Duckett has apologized  for the company's handling of communications about the spill.