Pengrowth Energy Corp. cut its production after a weekend leak on one of its pipelines sent oil flowing into a northern Alberta creek.
Alberta's oil and gas regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board, said Monday it was investigating the release of crude oil into Judy Creek, about 200 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. A Pengrowth spokesman said roughly 500 barrels of oily liquid spilled from the line, which forms part of the company's "gathering system" that brings corrosive raw product from wells to the processing facility.
The accident forced the company to turn off 3,000 barrels in daily oil-equivalent production, or roughly 4 per cent of its total.
The rupture caused a fire but no injuries. It is the latest in a series of leaks that have damaged the industry's reputation and renewed concerns about an aging pipeline system.
But the Pengrowth leak differs in one important respect from major spills in the past year on decades-old pipes belonging to Enbridge Inc. and Plains All American Pipeline LP.
The Pengrowth line, an eight-inch pipe, "is not one of the older pipelines," company spokesman Wassem Khalil said. "It's maybe five, definitely under 10 years old. It's one of the fibreglass pipelines and that's what we're investigating why and what happened."
Although neither Pengrowth nor the ERCB had additional details on the system that burst, the industry has used fibreglass pipelines for roughly two decades, said Hal Kvisle, former chief executive officer of TransCanada Corp. Unlike metal pipe, they are resistant to corrosion and typically carry what Mr. Kvisle called "a very nasty mixture of corrosive stuff" from underground.
That mixture generally includes small quantities of oil and gas mingled with large quantities of salt water. In the Judy Creek leak, the ERCB said only 5 per cent of the product was oil.
Mr. Kvisle has no direct knowledge of the Pengrowth leak. But in general with fibreglass pipelines, "for something to go wrong, it's probably caused by soil subsidence or some external source that caused the pipe to crack," he said. "It may have been a pressure shock where it was overpressured. But it was probably not corrosion, which is the big bugbear."
Corrosion and the safety of older pipelines have become central issues since a recent series of major spills. In the past year, tens of thousands of barrels of oil have leaked from decades-old pipes in Michigan, northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Those spills have created environmental damage and sparked allegations from nearby residents that the spills affected their health.
In the latest Pengrowth spill, however, the ERCB said no people or wildlife were harmed. Flow through the pipe has been halted, cleanup is under way and Pengrowth said Monday afternoon the spill "has been contained."
The extent of environmental damage remains unknown, however. Judy Creek flows into Freeman River, a tributary of the Athabasca River, one of Alberta's most important waterways - although it's not clear how far oil has moved through that system.
The ERCB said booms, absorbent materials, vacuum trucks and collection tanks have been brought to the spill site.