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An aerial view of the spill of emulsion, a mixture of bitumen, water and sand, lies on the surface on a feeder pipeline corridor near the Nexen Energy's Long Lake oilsands facility south of Fort McMurray, Alberta on July 17, 2015.

HANDOUT/Reuters

The cleanup of a massive pipeline spill in northern Alberta must be conducted with the long-term future of the land in mind, says a local aboriginal group.

"Our biggest concern is the land," said Byron Bates, a band councillor of the Fort McMurray First Nation, which sits about 10 kilometres from the five-million-litre bitumen spill.

Mr. Bates said the area around the spill isn't used as much for hunting, trapping and other traditional purposes as it was before industry arrived. But he said those developments aren't going to be around forever. When industry's done, his people expect no traces to be left of events such as last Wednesday's spill.

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"In 50 or 70 years, the oil companies are going to be gone," he said. "We want to be able to use our land again. Our biggest concern is to make sure it's brought back to pristine condition."

The cleanup effort continued Sunday on the site about 35 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray. A road into the site has been completed. Crews have fenced off the area to keep wildlife out and built berms to contain contaminants. Vacuum trucks are sucking surface fluid off the muskeg in preparation for the more intensive effort of digging up and removing potentially contaminated soil.

"They've got to get that fluid out so they can then dig up that [affected] soil and treat that," said Kim Blanchette, a spokeswoman for the Alberta Energy Regulator, who was on site. "Anything that's come in contact with that fluid has to be treated."

Mr. Bates praised the activity on site, saying it has improved after a slow start.

"There's a better effort on the ground and they're taking more active measures to prevent (bitumen) getting into the lake," he said.

A small, unnamed lake sits near the spill site and is being monitored for any seepage.

Mr. Bates said Nexen has given the band's representatives full access to the site and has shared cleanup plans with them. "We're pretty happy with that," he said. "But there's still concern in our community."

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Nexen's website said Sunday that a small tank farm has been built on the site for the collected fluids and officials from the regulator have reviewed the company's environmental cleanup plan.

Testing of soil and water from in and around the site is conducted daily to make sure contaminants aren't reaching any local water bodies, Ms. Blanchette said.

"There's been a lot of rain, so it's very important they keep testing. Containment is a big, big part of what we require from them in terms of plans."

"There's a recognition that this is going to take some time to clean up."

The spill was spotted Wednesday by a contractor after the company's automated monitoring system failed to report the breach.

On Friday, Ron Bailey, Nexen's senior vice-president of Canadian operations, said the company was investigating the system failure and apologized for the impact of the spill.

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Ms. Blanchette said the regulator's investigation will consider why the relatively new section of pipe leaked and why the company's automated warning system failed. She said the pipe will soon be purged and removed for forensic testing.

The affected area is about 16,000 square metres. That's plenty big, said Mr. Bates, who visited the site Friday.

"I was amazed at how big it was. You read five million litres but when you go out and see it, it's something else."

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