With controversy still swirling around the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a lot of politicians and industry leaders have been quick to reassure the public that oil pipelines are “perfectly safe.” Sure, what could go wrong with thousands of barrels of oil rushing through a pipeline that stretches clear across the country?

If existing pipelines are any indication, the answer is plenty.

Over a week ago, a pipeline in the far northwest of Alberta malfunctioned, releasing a murky solution of tar sands oil and water into the bogland (also known as muskeg) southeast of Rainbow Lake. The pipeline belongs to Pace Oil & Gas Ltd., which had no idea the oil was leaking out and had to be informed on the dangerous spill by another company that was surveying the area by aircraft.

The most recent reports indicate that the oil spill, which has reached 22,000 barrels, has yet to be contained, although company officials claim they are “very close.” Although the situation is dire, it could have been worse. The company says that the ruptured pipeline used for water injection, so it was only carrying an emulsion of roughly 50 percent water and 50 percent oil.

The company has established a 50-person camp near the spill site so that containment and clean-up can commence immediately. According to an official statement, remaining water injection lines in the area have been shut down until the surface piping can be inspected. Any suspect piping will be replaced before going back into operation. The company also states that a local wildlife management firm is on location and ensuring wildlife does not migrate into the affected area. To date, only one deceased duck has been identified.

Unfortunately, with oil and gas companies flocking to exploit Alberta’s oil sands deposits, spills like this one have become increasingly commonplace. Just last year, for instance, the 220,000 barrel-a-day Rainbow pipeline belonging to Plains All America Pipeline L.P. spilled 28,000 barrels in northern Alberta.

Photo Credit: Ryan McFarland

via Globe and Mail