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The Land Down Under: When fracking springs leaks

A look at the likely causes of the CNRL oil spill near Cold Lake

Jan 28, 2014

Injecting steam, water and fracking fluids into the earth to extract bitumen is one thing. The resulting leaks, if they happen, are quite another.

Consider the leak at CNRL’s Primrose/Wolf Lake oil sands project, near Cold Lake. It began in January last year and, as of press time, is still leaking. The cause is not clear but the effect so far is: Four confirmed leaks have contaminated 14 hectares of surface land (and unknown subsurface areas), releasing 1.5 million litres of bitumen emulsion (9,600 barrels of oil equivalent) and killing more than 100 animals. It’s now feared that groundwater aquifers, which ultimately drain into Cold Lake, could be contaminated.

The company has been ordered to drain a 53-hectare lake to locate a potential fissure at its floor and search for clearer answers. But what’s happening to cause this mess?

Likely causes of spill:

CNRL says …
1) mechanical failure
2) leaky wellbores

Global Forest Watch says …
1) caprock fractures, which can be either natural or caused by excessively high steam pressure beneath them.

downuder_story

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