Cause of biggest oil-related spill on land ever in North America – Nexen Energy, Fort McMurray, Alberta

Repost from Reuters
[Editor:  See also:  Nexen pipeline may have been leaking for over two weeks.  Also: Alberta pipelines: 6 major oil spills in recent history.  – RS]

Nexen says may take months to pinpoint cause of Alberta pipeline spill

By Mike De Souza, Jul 22, 2015 6:40pm EDT

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta  –  Finding the root cause of the oil-sands pipeline leak discovered earlier this month in northern Alberta, one of the biggest oil-related spills on land ever in North America, will likely take months, a senior Nexen Energy executive said on Wednesday. Nexen, a subsidiary of China’s CNOOC Ltd, is putting a higher priority on cleaning up the spill from its pipeline and investigating its cause than on restarting the Kinosis oil sands project where the spill took place, Ron Bailey, Nexen’s senior vice president of Canadian operations, said during a tour of the site.

Bailey said there were about 130 workers doing clean-up and investigation work at the site.

The leak in the double-layer pipeline spilled more than 31,500 barrels of emulsion, a mixture of bitumen, water and sand, onto an area of about 16,000 square meters (172,000 square feet).

“We’ve actually shut in everything at Kinosis and our priority is not to bring Kinosis back on production,” Bailey said. “We will be focusing on understanding the root cause of any failure here and the reliability of our systems before we ever start up this system again.”

The spill site, south of the oil sands hub of Fort McMurray, was detected on July 15 by a contractor walking along the pipeline route. Nexen has not determined when the leak started or why a new state-of-the-art leak detection system failed.

Bailey said leak likely occurred after June 29, when the pipeline was cleaned with water.

Nexen executives on Wednesday brought journalists to tour the site, which smells like tar, and where the company was using sound cannons to deter birds and other wildlife from becoming entangled in the gooey emulsion.

Nexen Chief Executive Fang Zhi personally apologized for the spill on Wednesday, echoing an apology by the company on Friday.

The Nexen leak was larger than the July 2010 rupture of an Enbridge Inc pipeline that spilled an estimated 20,000 barrels of crude, with some reaching Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

The Nexen spill dealt another blow to the oil sands industry in Alberta, which is under fire from environmental groups and aboriginal communities for its carbon-intensive production process.

Extracting and processing heavy grade oil from the massive oil sands deposits in the Western Canadian province requires large amounts of energy and water.

(With additional writing by Jeffrey Hodgson; Editing by Peter Galloway)