Fourth pipeline spill found in northern Alberta

Fourth pipeline spill found in northern Alberta
A 42-hectare area near Zama City in northern Alberta was destroyed when 15.4 million litres of wastewater spilled following a pipeline breach on May 5, 2013.Photo: Apache Corp.

Apache Corp. is responding to its fourth pipeline spill in the last year on its property in northern Alberta after a leak that released 1.6 million litres of toxic wastewater onto the nearby ground was discovered Thursday.

The Texas-based oil and gas producer informed the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) of the leak Thursday morning, shortly after an Apache employee discovered produced wastewater issuing from a water injection pipeline at Belloy Field, 40 km northwest of Whitecourt, Alta.

According to reports, the leak spread an estimated 200 metres from the pipeline, spilling down an embankment and entering a small, unnamed creek.

Wastewater produced during oil and gas extraction contains heavy metals, salt and other minerals, as well as trace amounts of hydrocarbons.

The company has stated there is no danger to the public and no known impacts to wildlife at this time.

After notifying AER, Apache dispatched a team to the spill area to begin remediation efforts and monitor impacts on the environment.

Thus far, air quality monitoring has discovered no evidence of hydrogen sulfide, a highly poisonous chemical used in oil and gas production, at the spill or cleanup site.

The company has launched an investigation into the cause of the leak.

Last year, Apache was faced with three pipeline leaks on its properties in northern Alberta, including two near Zama City, one of which released the largest volume for a pipeline spill in recent North American history after 15.4 million litres of wastewater contaminated a 42-hectare wetland area in June.

The company announced the results of its investigation into the June spill in October, which it said was caused by stress corrosion cracking in the water injection pipeline.

According to the company, a pinhole in the plastic liner of the pipe allowed water to leak through and mix with the sulfur gas causing corrosion and cracking of the exterior steel bands.

A week after those results were released, another spill was found near Zama, estimated to have released 1.8 million litres of wastewater. A second, previous leak released a smaller, unnamed amount earlier that summer.

Apache stated it would be installing real-time monitoring on nine of its water injection wells in the Zama operations area through SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition).

As of December, the company had treated and released 110,000 cubic metres of wastewater from the Zama spill back into the environment.

The company is continuing desalination of the affected area, as well as water and wildlife monitoring and soil sampling. According to their website, vegetation renewal is pending.

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