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Another chapter unfolds in CNRL’s oilsands bitumen blowout in Cold Lake, Alberta

Oct. 9, 2013

In a drastic move to contain an on-going and unstoppablebitumen blowout in Cold Lake, Alberta, the province’s department of environment has ordered Canadian Natural Resource Ltd. (CNRL) to drain two thirds of a 53-hectare lake. According to CNRL, some of the removed water will be stored in the remaining one third of the lake, with the rest piped to a nearby pit and wetland.

Draining the water body will allow the company to seal the fissure currently seeping bitumen into the lake, and allow the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) to compare it with three others on site. According to eyewitnesses, the fissures are as much as 150 meters in length.

In an online statement, CNRL said:

“We are at a phase in our restoration plan […] where we require access to the fissure below the shallow water body. We have determined the best regulatory approach to manage this work is through the Environmental Protection Order process. Canadian Natural requested and received an Environmental Protection Order for the 9-21 site from ESRD [Environment and Sustainable Resource Development].”

The order contradicts many of the public statements made by CNRL since the incident was made public: bitumen continues to seep from all four ground-fissures, none of the four leaking sites are contained, and the cause of the blowout remains unknown — as does information regarding how long the bitumen emulsion has actually been leaking.

Stretching the definition of reasonable

Section 112 of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act states that, upon the release of a substance that may cause adverse impacts to the environment, the company must take all reasonable measures to address its effects on the environment, prevent further impacts and return the environment to a “satisfactory condition.” It’s under this rule that CNRL has received approval to drain the 53-hectare lake impacted by its in-situ operations.

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