Northern Journal reports Oilsands Pipeline Spills in Canada


The Northern Journal is an independent newspaper covering news and events in Northern Alberta and across the Northwest Territories.

Environment — January 27, 2014 at 8:15 PMFrom Northern Alberta

Fourth pipeline spill found in northern Alberta

by Maria Church


PhotoApache Corp.

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.

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.


Environment — January 20, 2014 at 8:30 PMFrom Northern Alberta

Cold Lake ‘shocked’ by fourth leak from CNRL’s oilsands

First Nation councillor says they need more access to information

by Maria Church  

Photo: Emma Pullman

Leaked bitumen pools in the wetlands near CNRL’s Primrose oilsands site last summer, which is located on the traditional territory of the Cold Lake First Nation.

Cold Lake First Nation leaders are crying foul after they said they learned about a fourth leak discovered on Canadian Natural Resource Ltd.’s (CNRL) Primrose Pad 30 – located on their traditional territory – in early January through media reports instead of the company or Alberta Environment.

“The Dene Nation was shocked to learn that CNRL had yet another spill within their territory,” the nation stated in a press release late last week.

CNRL rep Zoe Addington told The Journal in an email that the incident, which occurred Jan. 3, was caused by a wellbore failure below the surface.

The failure did not cause a spill or leak to the surface, Addington stated, and there has been “no impact to the environment nor potential danger to people.”

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is currently investigating the incident that caused 27,000 litres of bitumen to be released underground, according to company numbers.

AER spokesperson Darin Barter confirmed that the incident was subsurface with no impact to the environment. He said the leak, which included steam, crude bitumen and produced water, has been contained.

Cold Lake in the dark

Cold Lake councillor and former chief Walter Janvier told The Journal last Thursday that the nation didn’t hear about the incident until a week after it happened through the media.

“This is another spill that has occurred and, similar to the last, the company has continuously not cooperated with the nation and not provided proper technical information so we can make a good assessment of what’s going on,” he said.

Cold Lake recently had a meeting with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) about remediation, cleanup and prevention of bitumen leaks, but Janvier said the government has been either reluctant or unable to push the oilsands company.

One in string of leaks for CNRL

Last summer, after CNRL’s in situ operations near Cold Lake released millions of litres of bitumen into the surrounding forest and water bodies, ESRD issued a protection order that included forcing the company to drain a lake as part of the clean up.

“(ESRD) says they are dealing with it, but all it is is just cleaning up the surface. The main problem is coming from underneath,” Janvier said.

Janvier said he would like to know what kind of pressure is being forced into the ground in the in situ drilling process and what kind of chemicals are being used, among other things.

“Our concern is the impacts on human health,” he said. “Our traditional people still consume a lot of the various animals that we hunt and fish for. A lot of these animals end up having a lot of the contaminants from what they are eating and the water. We need the scientific data to find out if these animals are safe to eat.”

Legal action considered

Janvier said that Cold Lake is standing in solidarity with the “Honour the Treaties” concert tour by Neil Young currently raising money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal fees against the government and oilsands companies.

Legal action against CNRL is not out of the picture for Cold Lake, he said.

“We are taking all measures that are within our means,” Janvier said. “That includes utilizing our legal system, utilizing our lawyers, utilizing our consultants and also our elders and all the people we can call upon to work out a way we can cause some kind of positive change.”


Keystone Pipeline vs. Whooping Cranes and Other Wildlife

The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the controversial Keystone Pipeline has been released for review. This pipeline would transport tar sands through 875 miles of the endangered whooping crane migratory route.

Whooping crane current-and former range and migration route

Whooping crane current and former range and migration route

 Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) contends that the pipeline is an unneeded and foolish project. An accidental spill of oil from the pipeline could have a serious adverse impact on whooping cranes and other wildlife species and valuable ground water supplies. The SEIS concluded that of the fourteen endangered species who frequent the pipelines route, only a beetle would be threatened. 

Whoopers 2-ad-1-juv-and-3-sandhills. photo by-Peggy-Diaz

Whoopers – 2 adults and 1 juvenile with 2 sandhills.  photo by Peggy Diaz

 Construction of the pipeline would produce 3,900 temporary jobs and only 50 permanent jobs. An NBC TV report closed with an admission that many of the officials who served on the impact committee were associated with people with pipeline connections.

For more information click on the following links:

Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)
Executive summary


Friends of the Wild Whoopers …. striving to conserve wild whooping cranes

Whooping cranes are the symbol of conservation in North America. Due to excellent cooperation between the United States and Canada, this endangered species is slowly recovering from the brink of extinction. There are several ongoing efforts by government and private organizations to protect and manage whooping cranes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service are the primary governmental agencies responsible as caretakers of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo National Park population (AWBP). These cranes nest in northern Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and winter on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. It is the only remaining wild, self-sustaining migratory population of whooping cranes in the world. Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is one of the private groups whose mission is to assist the agencies in their role.

FOTWW’s goals and objectives are:

  1. Educating and keeping people informed about the only remaining wild, self-sustaining migratory population of whooping cranes in the world and management options to protect and increase the population.
  2. Later on, in a year or so, after increasing interest in FOTWW we will consider becoming a formal organization.
  3. During future months, make an effort to interest more people about FOTWW with emphasis on people along the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population (AWBP) flyway, including Canada.


Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America standing at a height of approximately 5 feet. They have a 7 ½ foot wingspan measured from tip to tip.Whooping crane showing black tips of primary feathers.

          Whooping crane showing black tips of primary feathers.

They weigh only about 15 pounds even though they appear larger. Whooping cranes are almost entirely white. The body and wing feathers are a bright white, except on the tips of the outer wings. The tips of the primary feathers are black and can be observed only when their wings are outstretched as during flight.

A large red patch on the head is an obvious characteristic of the whooping crane. The red patch extends from the cheek, along the bill and over the top of the head. The red patch is made of skin and is almost featherless. Their eyes are yellow and their long legs are black. While in flight, their long necks are kept straight and their long dark legs trail behind. Whoopers are graceful flyers and picturesque dancers.

The baby chicks, known as colts, have a soft buff brown covering. When the chicks are about 40-days-of-age, cinnamon-brown feathers emerge. When they are one-year-old white adult plumage replaces the cinnamon-brown feathers. Whooping cranes live about 20-25 years in the wild.

Their preferred habitats are wetlands, marshes, mudflats, wet prairies and fields. They are omnivores and primarily eat crustaceans, small fish, amphibians, reptiles and insects. They also consume grains, marsh plants and acorns.

Their calls are loud and can carry several kilometers. They express “guard calls” for warning their partner about any potential danger. The crane pair will jointly call (“unison call”) in a very rhythmic and impressive way in the early morning , after courtship and for defending their territory. The first unison call ever recorded in the wild was taken in the Whooping Cranes’ wintering area in the in December 1999 and is documented here.


During the 1800s, whooping cranes were more abundant. Nesting was more widespread with records of nest in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, the Dakotas and northward through the prairie provinces of Canada, Alberta, and the Northwest Territory. Wetland drainage and clearing of areas for farming destroyed whooper habitat and hunting reduced their numbers. The only wild population that survived by the 1940s was the isolated one nesting in Canada’s Northwest Territory. This population struggled but, with improved protection and public education the slow increase of birds has continued.

The AWBP population increased from 16 individuals in 1941 to approximately 300 wild birds in September 2013. It is the only whooping crane population that maintains its numbers by rearing chicks in the wild. Efforts to increase the whooping crane population are ongoing in an experimental Eastern Population which migrates between Wisconsin and Florida. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership rears birds in captivity and releases them into the wild. Approximately 108 birds that they reared in captivity and released into the wild survive currently in this population. In addition, two experimental non-migratory flocks have been initiated in Florida (20 birds in 2014) and Louisiana (33 birds in 2014). An additional 162 whooping cranes are held in captivity to provide eggs to further increase the three experimental flocks and for research purposes.


Whooping crane current and-former range and migration routes.

Although there has been progress in increasing the numbers of whoopers, only one population maintains its numbers by rearing chicks in the wild. This flock now contains an estimated 300 birds that nest in Wood Buffalo National Park, in the Northwest Territory of Canada. After rearing their chicks, they migrate to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas and bordering private land where they spend the winter. It is on this wintering ground where they are especially vulnerable. A chemical or oil spill could damage or destroy their food supply. Or a hurricane could destroy their habitat and kill birds. And a growing, equally dangerous problem is diversion of river waters that flow into the crane’s habitat.

Competition is severe for the fresh water which is being used upstream for agriculture, business and for human uses in cities. Litigation is in progress to hopefully settle this problem. The steadily diminishing flow of fresh water into the bays and estuaries is making the area less productive for whooping crane foods. These foods are essential to keep the birds healthy for their 2,500-mile migration back to Canada where winter is just ending. And once there the nesting pairs need reserve energy for producing more young.

During March and April the cranes migrate from Texas back across the Great Plains and Saskatchewan to reach their nesting area in Wood Buffalo National Park. Whoopers begin pairing when 2 to 3 years of age. Their interesting courtship involves dancing together and a duet called the “unison call”. Once pairs are bonded, whooping cranes mate for life. Females begin producing eggs at age 4 and generally produce two eggs each year. Typically only one chick survives but survival of both chicks is not unusual. Whooper pairs return to the same location (“territory”) each spring. If trespasser whoopers are in their nesting area territory, they are chased away. Nesting territories may include a square mile or larger area. Chasing other cranes away ensures there will be enough food for them and their chicks. During night whoopers stand in shallow water where they are more secure from danger.

Whooping crane nesting habitat, Wood Buffalo National Park, Cana photo by Brian Johns

Whooping crane nesting habitat, Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada                         photo by Brian Johns

When the whooper pair settles in, they build a nest in a shallow wetland, often on a shallow-water island. Their large nest typically measures about 4 feet across and 8 to 18 inches high. It is assembled from plants that grow in the water (sedges, bulrush, and cattail). The two eggs are laid one to two days apart so one chick emerges before the other. Parents take turns keeping the eggs warm and they hatch in about 30 days. Chicks are called “colts” because they have long legs and appear to gallop when they run. Young colts can walk and swim short distances within a few hours after hatching and may leave the nest when a day old. They grow fast so they will be strong for the imminent migration back south. In summer, whooping cranes eat crayfish, minnows, frogs, insects, plant tubers, snails, mice, voles, and other baby birds. Colts become good fliers by the time they are 80 days of age.

During September through November the adult whoopers lead their young and retrace their migration pathway to escape harsh winters and reach the warm Texas coast. As they migrate they stop occasionally to rest and feed on agricultural and weed seeds that fell to the ground as farmers harvested their fields. When they reach the Texas coast they live in shallow marshes, bays, and tidal flats. Pairs and their young return to the same area each winter. As they did on their nesting territory, they defend their winter territory by chasing away other cranes. Winter territories normally encompass 200 to 300 acres. Winter foods are predominantly blue crabs and soft-shelled clams but include shrimp, eels, snakes, cranberries, minnows, crayfish, acorns, and roots.

Whooping crane winter habitat on Aransas NWR, Texas photo by USFWS

Individual whooping cranes may live as long as 25 years. However, they face many dangers in the wild. And while they can defend themselves and their young from many enemies, they must continuously stay on guard. Bobcats, coyotes, wolves, and golden eagles kill adult cranes. Crows, ravens and bears eat eggs and mink eat crane chicks. As they migrate, especially during storms or poor light, they occasionally crash into power lines and kill or injure themselves. In addition, they die of several types of diseases similar to all creatures.



Voices From the Past

Courtesy of Kevin Sims Photo taken at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Lesson in foraging. ~Kevin Sims

Below is a link to a recording of Whooping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, recorded January 26, 1954. The Macaulay Library has twelve different Whooping Crane recordings but this one is by far the best out of the twelve. It talks about 1954 being the first year that they had three young colts successfully migrate with their parents from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. The Whooping Crane population at ANWR for that winter was a total of 24, including the three colts.

 The first speaker you hear in the recording is Arthur Allen, a renowned ornithologist,for whom the Arthur A. Allen Award is named after. Julian Howard, the second person to speak and mentions the annual count being 24, was the manager of ANWR at the time.

Six months later, the nesting grounds were found at Wood Buffalo National Park and no longer unknown. Very slowly during the past 60 years the flock has increased to approximately 300 in 2013. That’s progress by any measure.

 1954 Arthur A. Allen Recording