Alberta Tar Sands Have Been Leaking for Nine Weeks with No Signs of Stopping

by , 07/24/13

cold lake, alberta, canada, primrose site, leak, bitumen, tar sands

In Cold Lake, Alberta an environmental disaster is unfolding. The Primrose bitumen emulsion site has been seeping tar over 30 acres of swampy forest for the past nine weeks. Already, the viscous substance has contaminated a large swath of vegetation and killed dozens of animals. About 26,000 barrels of tar have been removed from the area. An anonymous government scientist told the Star that the leak was not going away, that no one understood the causes of the problem, and do not have any effective remediation measures in place. A spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), which oversees the extraction sites, is currently working with owner Canadian Natural Resources Ltd to begin to clean up the mess.

bitumen, tar, extraction, global warming

The Primrose site extracts 100,000 barrels of bitumen out of the ground each day through a process known as cyclic steam stimulation (CSS). The method injects millions of gallons of pressurized steam hundreds of feet down into the earth where it loosens the bitumen enough for it to be pumped to the surface. Eighty percent of all bitumen that can be extracted can only be removed by steam, and although it has been described as a more environmentally friendly alternative to the technology that has left regions of Alberta with visible scars, the CSS actually releases more CO2. There have been accidents with this type of mining in the past at Primrose back as recently as 2009.

On May 21 of this year, springs of watery bitumen began to appear on the surface, and localized extraction was stopped when the first three appeared. When a fourth formed close to a body of water, AER scaled back operations. Currently, no one seems to know what the long-term consequences of the leak will be, and whether or not it has impacted groundwater. Representatives from Canadian Natural and AER assure that the seep does not pose a risk to humans and that wildlife deterrents have been put in place. However, the problem has persisted for weeks with no signs of slowing.


Via Mother Jones

Images via Wikicomons users Ssgt. Derrick C. Goode and Vales.

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  1. Samantha Waddell July 26, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    The problem is that the land belongs to the Department of National Defence and anyone who goes onto it has to get permission and unfortunately I guess they are not very fast on this and until there is pressure from the public they wont do anything…. Gotta love the Federal Gov’t. Funny how they will protect other countries but not our own.

  2. cdelaigle July 25, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    This God-awful race to get the last bit of oil or oil-derivative (or it may be the other way around, I don’t really know) out of the earth without any regard for what the processes are doing to the environment ON earth or ABOVE it is WRONG! Instead of building pipelines across the continent to send this product to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico and from there on to China, we should be throwing all our energies and resources into CLEAN sources of power such as wind turbines and solar power. I know with automobiles comes the need for fuel, but a rail system would free up the highways of millions of autos each day as people take the train to work and then buses, mass transportation to work. Every year that rolls around there are more ‘new’ cars produced and those that are traded in, wrecked, or out of service for whatever reason fill the land here in Northeast Georgia and look like auto farms with car upon car upon truck upon bus stacked to rot ruining the beauty of God’s green earth. We have to get a hold on THIS and on those who would push us to pry the last drops of oil, coal, and natural gas out of the earth and then be left with 1) no clean, potable water; and 2) no clean earth to live on for the pollution left behind by this bitumen and the chemicals used to pry it from the ground. Oh, but look to the Bushes for a source of water when ours is ruined for good. They’ll be ready.

  3. Roger Albert July 25, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Money trumps everything. That\\\’s pretty obvious in this case.

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