A Canadian oil company has not been able to figure out how to plug a series of leaks from underground tar sands wells in Alberta that have been spilling oil since May 20. In fact, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is not even sure what caused the four leaks in the first place.
Recent documents estimate that the tar sands well has been leaking from the Cold Lake operation for four months, ThinkProgress reported.
"Everybody [at the company and in government] is freaking out about this ... We don't understand what happened,” said a government scientist, who asked not to be identified, to The Star. “Nobody really understands how to stop it from leaking, or if they do they haven't put the measures into place.”
Media has not been allowed to go to the spill site because it is located on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range where the Canadian military conducts active weapons tests.
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There are four leaks from the well, but the operators have not indicated how much oil has spilled. There were 26,000 barrels of bitumen mixed with surface water cleaned up from the operation as of July 19. CNR said in a press release Thursday that the “initial impact area” is about 50 acres.
Without giving a decisive reason for the leaks, CNR chalked them up to “mechanical failures.”
“We are investigating the likely cause of the occurrence, which we believe to be mechanical,” CNR told the Star. “Canadian Natural has existing groundwater monitoring in place and we are undertaking aquatic and sediment sampling to monitor and mitigate any potential impacts. As part of our wildlife mitigation program, wildlife deterrents have been deployed in the area to protect wildlife.”
“This is a new kind of oil spill and there is no ‘off button,’” said Keith Stewart, an energy analyst with Greenpeace who teaches energy policy at the University of Toronto. “You are pressurizing the oil bed so hard that it’s no wonder that it blows out. This means that the oil will continue to leak until the well is no longer pressurized.” Therefore, bitumen could be seeping up from the ground for months.
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Koch Industries plans to build a tar sands pipeline through the center of the United States to the Gulf Coast. The Keystone XL pipeline has raised a number of safety concerns. A 2010 tar sands spill in Michigan is still not cleaned up. A brewery near the Kalamazoo River just filed suit against the Canadian energy company Enbridge, underscoring not only safety concerns about tar sands pipelines like the Keystone XL, but also the fact that spill cleanup causes even more pollution and public health hazards than the spill itself.
Furthermore, Keystone is going to make gas prices increase in the United States and especially in the Midwest.
In an interview with the New York Times published on Saturday, President Barack Obama threw out GOP assumptions that the pipeline would be a jobs creator.
“The most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline — which might take a year or two — and then after that we're talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people,” Obama said.
Perhaps in light of recent oil disasters, Obama appears to be taking a hardening line with the Keystone XL development.