Photo: Alberta's biggest oil spill in 30 years is a call to action for Canadians

An oil pipeline spill in northern Alberta has spilled at least 28,000 barrels, making it the biggest spill in over three decades. (CBC/Briar Stewart)

By Sutton Eaves

When it comes to oil spills, the question is never if but when and how bad.

At least 4.5 million litres of oil have spilled across part of the Peace River watershed in northern Alberta. It's the biggest crude oil pipeline spill in that province since 1975, and it's being described as "a major, major spill involving a significant amount of product" by provincial regulators, who took five days to announce Friday's spill to the public. Incidentally, it was also the second pipeline spill to take place in Alberta last week.

How long it will take to clean up the spill and how badly it will impact the people and environment around it is still unclear. Oil gushed out of the pipeline within the traditional territory of the Lubicon Cree, who lead a largely subsistence lifestyle within the pristine ecology of northern Alberta's boreal forest. The school in Little Buffalo, about 30 kilometres from the spill, is closed and residents are saying they've experienced nausea, burning eyes and headaches since the leak began. Some community members report that the oil is still leaking into the surrounding forest and bog.

What we do know is that no matter how many times oil companies tell us that practices and technology are improving, we'll never stop having spills so long as we depend on fossil fuels and the devices — including pipelines — that move them between coasts, countries and continents. The spills in Michigan and the Gulf of Mexico are a few recent examples, not to mention iconic disasters like Exxon Valdez. As old pipelines age and new ones are proposed — including the Enbridge pipelines that would tear tracks across Alberta and British Columbia to provide oil to American and Asian markets — the likelihood of spills grows.

What can you do about oil spills?

Get off oil. Reducing our dependence on oil means switching to cleaner energy sources and cutting energy consumption as much as we can.

But preventing oil spills requires more than individual action. Northern Alberta is being hammered by oil and gas activities, with few plans in place to make sure that industrial development happens in a way that protects the environment, or the people and cultures so intimately connected to it. This is particularly true for First Nations, who with the help of Amnesty International are raising the issue as a matter of international human rights.

Tell our leaders to take action, too

Call on our leaders to develop and commit to plans for protecting Alberta and its people from the impacts of oil and gas development.

While you're at it, tell our leaders to stop providing taxpayer-funded subsidies to oil companies.

Oil spills don't need to be an intermittent and devastating reality for Canadians. We need to conserve energy, we need to tell our governments that it's time to start the shift to a clean-energy economy, and we need plans and regulations to keep pipelines and tankers from destroying our forests, valleys and oceans.

May 4, 2011

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Jun 11, 2012
8:50 PM

This is horrible! Nothing will ever change unless we take some action not one of us but all of us. International human rights are definately being broken. why do we have no say in this when we are the majority. Why not stand up and fight to give ourselves and our children what we truely need and deserve a clean healthy environment. I don't care about greed I care about my children and the lives they are going to have unless we all stand up and say NO MORE!!! Further more I challenge this site to give us the people we need to contact to really do something!

Jun 01, 2012
1:02 PM

When is the world going to stop depending on oil? When did it become acceptable to sacrifice health, and our planet for dirty oil. It's time to sink our money into solar, wind power, and clean resources. NOW is the time to start thinking about future generations. NOW is the time for change!!!

Feb 18, 2012
6:57 PM

Is the General Canadian and USA public properly informed of this Million gal spill , before evaluating or approving future projects?

Why not chose to spend millions or billions of dollars on more sustainable energy sources for each residence, rather than sinking more $$$ into a lost and un-healthy cause? Think of the long-term improved quality of life for each individual, rather than a short term economic benefit for relatively smaller group of oil workers, businesses?

Nov 07, 2011
1:27 PM

Oil spills suck!!!

May 24, 2011
5:24 PM

What do oils spills and gong bells have in the common? Ask Sterling

May 16, 2011
6:02 PM

Hello, this oil industry really intrests me. I try to wrap my head around how they make billions and billions of dollars in the first quarter, but yet they cant maintain there supply lines. These should be some ofthe topics discussed when our government meets with the big oil companies to explain why we are gouged so bad just so big oil companies can pocket billions of dollars every quarter and destroy our world in the process.

Im also looking for more information on how these pipes are inspected and what precautions if any are taken so this doesnt continue to happen?

May 12, 2011
7:42 AM

Nobody wants to listen to Dr. Suzuki, well we will pay the consequences… By the way my contribution to this planet is that I never own a car and never will. I take bus, plane, train…I’m 52 years young.

Thank you Canada for Stephen Harper…

May 06, 2011
5:51 PM

Unfortunate as this event is, one does have to keep in mind the overall picture, including those who espouse “hugging the trees”.

Please practice what you preach the when you attend your next gathering of like-minded individuals: walk there. Because to do otherwise, via any other method of fossil-fuelled transit, serves only to forward your hypocrisy.

To paraphrase a speech by the CEO of Enbridge following the Michigan spill, the technology does not yet exist to “beam” this crude to the refinery, where it can be made into the fuel that goes into your aircraft, car, truck, bus, train … you get the picture.

Yes, by all means, transmission systems need to be tightly controlled, monitored and in the event of an “event”, need to be dealt with swiftly. However, bear in mind that those sneakers that you will be wearing while walking to the next environmental function are made from petrochemical products :)

May 06, 2011
11:09 AM

It is possible that our current government is downplaying or trying to ignore the horrible environmental impact of this spill. I’m not sure if this claim is substantianted, so let’s make sure that they know Canadians are very, very concerned about such disasters and not just the profitability and economic “contribution” of the Alberta oil sands companies.

Let’s share this, talk about this, and research the horrible impact this has on the very fragile freshwater ecosystems in the area as well as adverse human impacts.

There is a discussion page on the Conservatives’ page on Facebook here:!/topic.php?uid=5661704203&topic=67728

I hope we can contribute constructive criticism on possible policy changes that the government can enact to make sure this happens less. While they do that, the public should use less fossil fuel derivatives. Bicycles, buses, use of sustainable energies all help.

My personal congratulations for Ms. Elizabeth May and the Green Party to finally win a spot in the House of Commons. It’s long overdue because of our majoritarian electoral system.

May 05, 2011
3:36 AM

Now that we have a Conservative Dictatorship running the country it is only going to get much worse. FUNNY how it was all kept hush hush until after the Federal Election. Gee I wonder how that happened. LOL

May 04, 2011
4:30 PM

Friday?? Not reported until 5 days later! Coincidence I think not, I work in an industry with spill potential and when we do have one, it is reported within 24 hrs if not someone has some serious explaining to do and then they pack there box and leave.

May 04, 2011
4:28 PM

I walk and take BC transit,takes fuel, but hopefully more effiicent more of the time. I don’t own a car. car pool with friends sometimes.

May 04, 2011
3:29 PM

not to fear, our minority majority government (39%) is completely on the scene… we’ll be fine.

May 04, 2011
3:27 PM

After the amount of oil that was spilled in the Gulf… who cares… (well i do, but i am one of those crazies that believe in sustainable living)

What i am eluding to is that 28,000 seems like such a small number compared to the gulf. I think people are desensitized… after 800 million does 28 thousand seem small… sure it does. Keep in mind that all the mess in the gulf is completely over with. Given the media’s lack of coverage, it would appear to that these things just right themselves.

Honestly, my heart goes out for the Cree, and I am sick that these oil spills are quickely forgotten by the media.

May 04, 2011
3:00 PM

Why is this nowhere obvious in Canadian media?

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