Pipeline spill of 400,000 litres of fracking wastewater enters Alberta creek

The company who operates the pipeline had seen 100 spills between 2015 and 2019.

This past Sunday, ARC Resources, a Calgary-based oil and gas extraction company, posted on their website that one of their pipelines had experienced a spill.

Captured from a Google cache on 29 December 2020.

The page was deleted sometime between the 27th and the 29th and replaced with a new page. The new page had the same content, except the company referred to the incident as a release instead of a spill, even though the entry of the 27th still refers to it as a spill.

According to the updates page, the spill seemed to have been contained by the 28th, 3 days after a local landowner reported it. ARC also reported that there had been no flow towards the nearby North Saskatchewan River, despite entry into a creek that feeds into the river. Further updates made no mention of the river.

According to a Canadian Press article (which didn’t go out until 4 days after the spill) picked up by multiple media outlets, the leak amounted to 400 cubic metres of produced water, which is roughly 400,000 litres or 2,500 barrels.

Produced water—otherwise known as wastewater—is the fluid brought up during extraction of oil and gas (such as fracking) and can include water naturally present in wells, water injected into wells as part of the extraction process, and chemicals added during extraction or to help separate oil and water after extraction.

Although produced water is primarily a brine, it often contains other solids, including sand, metals (such as zinc, lead, manganese, iron, and barium), oil, and the treatment chemicals mentioned above.

For example, the two most recent reported disclosures filed by ARC on fluid composition (here and here) used at fracking sites in the area showed that the fracking fluid at each site comprised of 88.78% water and 14,93% sand at one and 84.75% water and 15.44% sand at the other. The remaining amounts at both sites were chemical additives (bactericide, clay control, friction reducers, and surfactants).

ARC produces roughly 7 million cubic metres of produced water (7 billion litres or 58.7 million barrels) every year at 100 hydraulically fractured wells. For example, they produced 6.998 million in 2019 and 7.383 million in 2018.

In 2019, ARC Resources recycled about 89% of the water used in its operations, up from the 88% reported in 2018 and 2017, but down from the 90% reported in 2015. This produced water requires transportation to storage reservoirs and treatment facilities and back to production sites.

As of 2020, ARC had over 100 kilometres of pipeline used for water transportation.

Even with recycling most of the water used in production, ARC used about 1.5 million cubic metres of freshwater (or 1.5 billion litres or 12.6 million barrels) in all their production last year. The average Alberta person consumed 70 cubic metres of water in 2017.

ARC Resources has seen no produced water spills in the last 5 years. However they have seen other types of spills in their operations.

Over the last 5 years, ARC Resources had 100 spills of fossil fuel products (43 of which were pipelines) with a combined volume of about 344.4 cubic metres (344,399 litres or 2,166 barrels). 54.8% of those spills were from pipelines. Only about 211.6 cubic metres (211,598 litres or 1,331 barrels) of those spills was recovered, or 61.4%. ARC’s pipeline incident rate was 1.02 incidents per 1,000 kilometres in 2019, its lowest rate in the last 5 years.

The company has received no fines or penalties for any of their spills.

ARC’s Christmas wastewater spill isn’t the first spill in the area related to the oil and gas extraction industry.

For example, last summer a rupture in a pipeline owned by Bonterra Energy resulted in 40 cubic metres (40,000 litres or 252 barrels) of crude oil spilling into Washout Creek—14 kilometres south of Drayton Valley—which drains into the North Saskatchewan River. The rupture was caused by a collapse in the creek bank near the pipeline, following flooding of the creek. Bonterra had a produced water spill in the area in 2001.

That spring, a piping connection at a water reinjection site 40 kilometres northwest of Drayton Valley leaked 80 cubic metres of produced water (80,000 litres or 670 barrels), some of which entered a wetland near Pembina River. The operator, Obsidian Energy, had a well and associated infrastructure suspended by the Alberta Energy Regulator.

The year before, chlorinated water spilled into the Nordegg River after a storage tank containing 4,000 cubic metres (4 million litres or 33,545 barrels) of water collapsed 50 kilometres southwest of Drayton Valley. The storage tank belong to Calgary-based Westbrick Energy.

A few months before that, a pipeline owned by Bonterra leaked about 10 cubic metres (10,000 litres or 63 barrels) of crude oil and 20 cubic metres (20,000 litres or 167 barrels) of produced water about 10 kilometres southeast of Drayton Valley.

The Alberta Energy Regulator has provided no updates on their website regarding the Christmas spill. Their most recent notice was posted on 21 December, announcing their holiday closure schedule.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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