By Vincent McDermott
The Cold Lake First Nation is arguing that two new leaks on a CNRL site have been discovered, bringing the company’s total to six.
The band wants to know why the company and provincial government did not publicly announce the information. However, CNRL and the Alberta Energy Regulator argue there are no new bitumen emulsions.
“I’m really distressed about the safety of our drinking water, animals, vegetation and how this is affecting the aquifers underneath our Dene lands,” said Chief Bernice Martial, Monday. “The environment is changing and definitely not for the positive.”
The band claims CNRL had arranged a tour of the spill site for early September for Cold Lake First Nation leaders. However, the band cancelled it due to “non-compliance with information requests” and boundary disputes.
Since May 20, bitumen has been bubbling to the surface at an uncontrollable rate in the region, although the province believes the leaks may have started last winter. The pools of bitumen forming throughout the region has killed wildlife and polluted traditional land held culturally significant by several Metis and First Nations communities, as well as the Canadian Force’s Cold Lake Air Weapons Range.
While the band argues they have discovered two additional bitumen leaks, the AER says the incidents actually involved a minor amount of process affected water and were not related to the Cold Lake bitumen leaks.
Zoe Addington, a spokesperson for CNRL, said in an email there are only four bitumen emulsions the company is aware of, and a cleanup crew of 200 individuals is still containing the area.
“I cannot speak to Cold Lake First Nation’s press release,” she wrote. “There have been nofurther discoveries of bitumen to surface.”
As of Sept. 8, CNRL has recovered approximately 10,100 barrels of bitumen, or 1.6 million litres, from the affected area. Dead wildlife in the area totals two beavers, 46 small mammals, 49 birds and 105 amphibians.
“Our future generations will not be able to enjoy what once was pristine Denesuline territory,” said Martial. “Animals such as wolves and bears are now migrating through our community, which is a safety risk and precaution.”
In July, the company said a mechanical failure at an old well was behind the ongoing seepage. In August, CNRL president Steve Laut said the company was “very sorry” about the incident and promised the company would contain the leaks.
Laut also admitted the company did a poor job at informing the public, the media and neighbouring communities with current information regarding the spill.
The AER has also ordered CNRL to reduce the amount of steam it injects near Cold Lake until cleanup operations are complete. While the company is apologetic about the incident, both the company and the province do not know when the leaks will stop.
“You’ll know it stops when you see it stop flowing,” said Laut.