Give us facts on Alberta oil spill, locals demand – by Shelley Youngblut (Globe and Mail – June 11, 2012)

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CALGARY- Four days after a pipeline operated by Plains Midstream Canada spilled an estimated hundreds of thousands of litres of oil into the Red Deer River in central Alberta, local landowners are waiting for answers.

“People are tired of hearing platitudes,” said Bruce Beattie, the reeve of Mountain View County, one of the affected communities. “Tell us the facts. Don’t try to make a political event out of it.”

Any oil spill in Alberta is a sensitive issue because of the controversy surrounding the debate over the Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines, but Mr. Beattie pointed out there are safety concerns that have to be addressed. “They are going to have to be much more forthcoming about the processes that led up to this spill.” ‘

Alberta Premier Alison Redford held a press conference Friday at the Dickson Dam on the Gleniffer Reservoir, which has been the focus of Plains Midstream’s clean-up efforts. Gleniffer Lake provides the water supply for the City of Red Deer and it is a popular recreation area for fishing and boating. The company has been providing bottled water to people who draw their drinking water directly from the river and the reservoir, though the City of Red Deer indicated on its website that it didn’t expect the spill to cause any problems.

“The situation appears to be in hand,” she said, adding there was an investigation under way and it was too early to talk about the cause and impact of the oil spill.

“We do always in Alberta want to ensure we’re balancing economic development, environmental sustainability and social impacts.”

There have been briefings, Mr. Beattie said, “but we need straight answers from everybody in one room.”

There have been conflicting reports, for example, about the location of the original break, which was on the north side of Sundre, Alta., and left 40 kilometres of riverbanks and poplar bush covered in oil, which will likely be far more difficult – and expensive – to remove than the higher-profile slick on the reservoir.

The Alberta government’s regulatory agency, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), should be supplying the answers, but some residents of rural Alberta are skeptical of its efforts. “The oil and gas industry is embedded in our politicians and the politicians control the ERCB,” said Don Bester, president of the Alberta Surface Rights Federation, which represents 1,400 landowners in the province who are opposed to several property-rights bills put forward by Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservatives before the April provincial election.

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