Water and oil don’t mix, except in groundwater

This past week has been strikingly bad for oil spills in Canada. The horrendous loss of life with the explosion of rail cars in Lac-Megantic was compounded by 5.7 million litres of oil being dumped.

In Alberta, it has recently come to light that what sounds like an in situ mining project has now leaked tens of thousands of barrels of oil into the surrounding ecosystem with no sign of abating just yet. This sort of spill is a very serious kind because there is no off switch.

The reason there is no off switch is because in situ mining projects in the oil sands superheat steam to liquefy bitumen underground and then push the slurry out under considerable pressure. So the only way for the spill to stop is for the pressure to go down, which is not something anybody has control over at this point.

Meanwhile, oil and water are mixing all throughout the groundwater and surface water areas affected. And are doing so under a category of industrial activity that Canada’s federal government no longer regulates through environmental assessments but which amounts to 80% of oil sands activity. Whoops.

Recently, Postmedia news started a new series on oil spills in Alberta and one of the most eye-popping stats is that there has been an average of 2 spills per day for the past 37 years. If you are a research type, you might be interested in the open data made available on where and when those spills took place. If you are not, then a big excel spreadsheet is probably not that interesting.

I’m on my way to Alberta this week to spend time back in my home province.


  1. […] oil spill I mentioned earlier in Alberta is still on-going. I think we’re at about 3 months now estimates from a few days […]

  2. […] keep tabs on Alberta’s ongoing oil spill that started several months ago (see previous posts here and here and, for why they matter given the current regulatory regime, see […]

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