Canada’s largest oil spill happened right next to Fort Mcmurray #468 First Nation. According to a hastily prepared official press release, Fort McMurray First Nation”is extremely concerned about the magnitude of the pipeline spill at the CNOOC Nexen Long Lake Facility that is within a 10 kilometer proximity of the Nation’s Reserve #176.” Chief and council visited the site and assessed the damage to their traditional lands for themselves this afternoon. Chief Kreutzer noted that even though he had heard about the scale of the spill prior to arriving, “the spill volume is a bit staggering in size especially when seeing this in the pristine environment. Contact between wildlife and bitumen could be detrimental and [we] are comforted with the efforts to restrict wildlife activity in the area.”
Councilor Byron Bates posted on Facebook, “I was surprised how big it was when I got there. This spill is only 10 kms away from our reserve land and in the middle of our traditional land where members of my Nation have hunted, fished, trapped and gathered for over a 1000 years.” Despite the territorial claims, neither Nexen or the Alberta Energy Regulator has provided them with an official briefing.
According to initial reports five million litres of emulsion have spilled, the equivalent of 43 rail tanker trucks spilling their entire loads. The Alberta Energy Regulator is reporting that the spill flowed into the pipeline’s right of way, including muskeg. But they are also reporting that it hasn’t entered into a water body. Since muskeg contains a water table near its surface, this contradictory statement is an error at best. Also stated is there are no reported impacts to wildlife so far, though this is a vacuous, stupid claim. Muskeg is home to many organisms, from bacteria and fungi, up to frogs, beavers, rabbits, and birds. The cleanup efforts will certainly impact and disturb the wildlife of the region until boots leave the ground. The fact that nothing is reported on paper shouldn’t allow for a whitewash claim that no wildlife has been affected.
CBC News released raw aerial footage which shows the spill next to a lake. Nexen is taking steps to prevent effluent from entering the lake.
Fort McMurray First Nation produced a video with Alberta Technical Services Advisory Group around muskeg in 2013, where elders and land users shared their traditional knowledge on muskeg, it’s traditional uses, and how they have seen it become harmed through industrial development and climate change. Even before this spill, right-of-ways for pipelines and other infrastructure was severely damaging the muskeg in their traditional territory. “With the clearing of the trees, you’re allowing more sun to get at it. At the same time, you’re allowing the winds to blow a lot easier…it creates a more rapid evaporation rate” said Elder Roland Woodward. “You take a piece of muskeg away from the pipeline and compare it to that, you’ll see a big difference.” says Donald Quintal in the short film. The spectre of pipeline spills was already on their minds back then. “Once you destroy the lands, they’re pretty hard to bring back to the original state,” says Elder Robert Cree. “I can just imagine how it’s going to look here, how everything is going to be affected. Animals, the plants, the water, the air, and the people. And to think about that makes me pretty sad. I can feel it in my heart.” says Elder August Cree.
Today, Nexen made an apology for the spill. “We sincerely apologize for the impact that this has caused,” lamented Ron Bailey, senior vice-president of Canadian operations, in the first news conference on the disaster. This spill took place in a pipeline that was double walled and less than one year old. The safeguards in place to detect a spill did not work.
Michael Tyas is the managing editor of One River News. He graduated the University of Manitoba with an honours degree in environmental studies, and is a professional videographer and video trainer. He produced the feature length documentary "One River, Many Relations" in Fort Chipewyan. He continues to work with indigenous communities to share their stories around resource extraction, industrial development, and impacts on traditional territories.