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Canada Alberta oil company with checkered history responds to new spill site

Clean-up operations after the April, 2011, Rainbow Pipeline rupture and oil spill near Peace River, Alta.

Jimmy Jeong/www.jimmyshoots.com

The company at the centre of two major Alberta oil pipeline ruptures in recent years is cleaning up this weekend after a new 950-barrel spill of a very light oil called condensate, which is used to thin down heavy oil sands bitumen so it can be transported via pipeline.

Plains Midstream Canada reports that 40 cleanup and containment workers are at the spill site in the remote area approximately 90 kilometres north west of Manning, a town in northwestern Alberta, responding to the condensate release on its Kemp pipeline system.

The pipeline system is now shut in. A Plains Midstream news release said the area affected by the release measures approximately 100 meters by 150 metres (about three and a half acres).

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Cara Tobin, a spokeswoman for the Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board, which regulates the province's oil and gas industry, said the company notified officials of the rupture on Friday, after it was discovered with an electronic detection system. She said there's at least one ERCB inspector on site, as well as officials from Alberta's environment department, but "there's no flowing water in the area."

As the ERCB begins its investigation into this latest spill, the company's past will be taken into account, Ms. Tobin said.

"We definitely look at the history of the company as one of the components when we determine what kind of enforcement action might be necessary," she said Sunday.

In April, the Alberta government laid charges against Plains Midstream Canada for the company's 2011 Rainbow pipeline rupture that resulted in the province's largest oil spill in 36 years.

The company, which is a subsidiary of Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline L.P., was hit with three charges under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act: for releasing a toxic substance, failing to take proper measures to contain the leak and failing to properly manage it. Each charge carries a maximum $500,000 fine.

The Rainbow pipeline fractured spilled 28,000 barrels of light sweet crude into the area around the Woodland Cree reserve, northeast of Peace River. In a report on the accident issued in February, the province's Energy Resources Conservation Board found major flaws in the company's operations and maintenance procedures, including leak-detection alarms and response.

The ERCB is also still investigating Plains Midstream's June, 2012, pipeline spill beneath the Red Deer River near Sundre, Alta.

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In the latest spill, the company said workers are trying to protect wildlife by patrolling the perimeter of the spill, establishing visual and audio deterrents, as well as installing wildlife fencing. The cause of the spill is also being investigated.

"We regret this incident and are working around the clock to limit the impact of the release," Plains Midstream Canada vice president Stephen Bart said in a news release.

"Industry-leading technical experts and regulatory bodies are engaged onsite in our response efforts and to ensure an effective clean-up."

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