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Is Alberta Under-reporting Oil Spills?


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February 16, 2017 by John Nicholson

As reported in The Tyee, a recent study commissioned at the request of a First Nation based in Alberta, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has been inaccurate in reporting on the scale and impact of daily crude oil and salt water spills in the Province.

Kevin Timoney, author of the report and an independent ecologist based in Alberta, reviewed the AER’s spill database and found spills that were not recorded in the database at all, or didn’t include information on volume spilled.

Kevin Timoney (Photo Credit: Chris Schwarz/ Edmonton Journal)

Mr. Timoney also drew his conclusions in the report based on information he found in which the AER routinely reported that 100 per cent of the spilled contaminants had been recovered after pollution events.  Scientific studies he examined had found clean-up rates for spills on land typically recover less than half the oil.

Thirdly, Mr. Timoney questioned the scientific credibility of the AER reporting because it suggested there had been almost no damage to wildlife and animals in Alberta.

As part of his research, Mr. Timoney examined Alberta’s spill database over a 38-year period between 1975 and 2013 and visited major spill sites to gauge the impacts on water, land and plants.  In that time period, the oil industry spilled at least 1.6 million barrels  of crude oil and more than five million barrels of salt water onto the land and waterways, according to Mr. Timoney’s analysis of the AER database.

Mr. Timoney found that the AER’s spillage statistics did not reflect the real scale of the problem because of missing data and other issues.  “There are a lot of spills unaccounted for with no volume specified,” said Mr. Timoney.  For example, he found many documented spills that appeared in newspapers aren’t in the database.

The AER database also does not include thousands of spills prior to 1975; spills from federally regulated pipelines; spills reported to Alberta’s environment ministry; or spills that classify oil or salt water as the second or third contaminant.

In addition, the regulator has often reported perfect recovery rates from most spills even though Mr. Timoney could find “no scientific studies” that documented total recovery of spilled oil or saline water on land. Saline spills can be more damaging to plants and vegetation because salts don’t degrade over time.


John Nicholson

John Nicholson

John is a cleantech and environmental expert with over 25 years of experience. He is a registered professional engineer and has a Masters degree in environmental engineering.
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