EDMONTON – The chief and council of Cold Lake First Nations want a tour of traditional lands contaminated by four recent surface releases of bitumen emulsion from oil wells, says the First Nations industry liaison.
“We have many concerns because that’s our traditional territory,” said Christine Chalifoux, who works as liaison between Cold Lakes First Nations and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. “As always, our concern is how much damage is done to the land and the wildlife that is out there.”
After a spill reported June 24 affecting 40 hectares of land at Canadian Natural’s Primrose South location, as well as three other spills at its Primrose East location this spring, the Alberta Energy Regulator ordered the Calgary-based producer to stop a process using steam to melt bitumen, allowing it to pool into wells before turning off the steam and pumping out the bitumen.
Both projects are on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range about 240 kilometres east of Edmonton. That range, Chalifoux said, has been federally recognized as part of the First Nation’s traditional territory.
As such, Chalifoux wants to have more details of how the land has been affected by the steam and the bitumen leaking to the surface. Alberta Environment says the Primrose South spill killed several animals, including waterfowl, shrews, beaver, frogs and tadpoles.
“Cold Lake is a big lake and Primrose Lake is out there and it’s concerning for people who go out fishing,” Chalifoux said. She said the affected area of the spills is about one hour from Cold Lake First Nations and about 30 minutes from the English Bay Reserve.
The Alberta Energy Regulator said there have been no risks to public safety, but have banned high-pressure steaming until a thorough investigation determines why the leaks occurred.
“I couldn’t say there’s no risk,” Chalifoux said. “There’s people that work out there, whether it’s our people or Canadian Natural people. Is that bitumen going in to the water?”
She said she hopes to arrange a tour of the affected area by the end of July. It could be delayed because the First Nations’ office closes next week for the annual pilgrimage at Lac Ste. Anne.
“We want to get that tour right away because it’s an ongoing issue,” Chalifoux said. “I don’t know if they have it under control. I don’t know if the leak has stopped. All I know is that the leak has come up to the surface.”
The release dirtied a body of water that Canadian Natural Resources initially described as “approximately 10 acres” (four hectares) of slough. The energy regulator equated that to approximately 175 barrels of spilled bitumen and about 800 barrels of oily vegetation.
Now that the spill covers about 40 hectares of land, there has been no revision to the spill volume.
“If we’re not getting what actually is going on out there, it kind of makes you wonder how much land is being affected in other areas that they’re unaware of,” Chalifoux said, noting Canadian Natural Resources also wants a meeting with the chief and council. “But myself, as well as the Nation, we’re very concerned because oil gets into the land and starts wrecking all the plants and all the land surrounding it.”
Canadian Natural Resources is still investigating, but believes the likely cause to be mechanical in nature.