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Beaver dam lessens impact of massive oil spill in Canada

 Google Earth view of location of Little Buffalo, Alberta near site of oil spill. Yellow line is the Canadian border with the US.
Google Earth view of location of Little Buffalo, Alberta near site of oil spill. Yellow line is the Canadian border with the US.

The Canadian province of Alberta has suffered its worst oil spill in 35 years with 28,000 barrels of oil (over a million gallons) spilling from a ruptured pipeline operated by Plains Midstream Canada in the Canadian boreal forest. The spill has sullied wetlands near Peace River, but was partially contained by a beaver dam and several small bodies of water according to the AFP.

“Good thing they had that beaver dam on there, eh? If they wouldn’t have had that beaver dam, God knows where that oil would have flowed. Probably down to Lubicon Lake. It’s not far from there,” William Whitehead, chief of the Woodland Cree, told the Edmonton Journal. The oil spill happened in the historical territory of the Cree’s Lubicon Lake Nation.

Although the dam helped stemmed the oil flow, the beavers didn’t make it. Six beavers and ten ducks were euthanized due to contamination.

Environmentalists say the spill could take years to clean up.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if clean up takes more than a year or two. There will be a lot of soil and vegetation that will be saturated with oil,” Chris Severson-Baker, managing director of a Canadian energy and environment think thank, told the Edmonton Journal.

Residents of Little Buffalo, Alberta from the Lubicon Lake Nation complained of health issues after the incident. The town lies about 4 miles from the spill. But Canada’s Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) air monitoring system found levels of hydrocarbons were within accepted limits. Alberta’s environment minister Rob Renner has apologized to the Cree indigenous nation for the spill.

“I think we all could have done a better job—government and industry—in communicating with the local communities,” Renner said this weekend, also complementing Plains Midstream Canada for its current clean-up effort involving 300 workers.

While oil began leaking on April 29th, Plains Midstream Canada did not issue a statement for nearly a week and initially said only a few hundred barrels worth of oil had spilled. It also barred leaders from the Lubicon Lake Nation from filming inside the spill area. The company has since apologized for its response.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said the spill brings up questions regarding adequate monitoring of Plains Midstream Canada, whose record she called “dismal”.

“The other unanswered question is whether officials tried to keep the Plains Midstream spill out of the news until after the election,” May said as reported by Global Toronto.

On May 2nd Canada’s Conservative Party, known as huge supporters of Canada’s oil industry, won a majority government. Canada is pushing to build a new pipeline through the US carrying oil from its infamous tar sands to the American market. The tar sands have been dubbed the by some as the world’s largest industrial source of greenhouse gases.

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