Researchers of an independent report on one of the largest ongoing oil releases in Alberta history say the provincial regulator and industry must do more to inform the public about the scale and impact of massive bitumen seepage in the oil sands.
For nearly a year now, more than 12,000 barrels of bitumen mixed with water have seeped through several long cracks (some as long as 100 metres) in the forest floor near four wells owned by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) in the Cold Lake region.
To date, the Calgary-based company has spent nearly $40 million in cleanup operations that have involved the removal of 70,000 tonnes of earth. It also pumped 404,378 cubic metres of water out of a small lake to clean up two large bitumen fissures.
CNRL says the cause of the extraordinary seepage at its Primrose facility is due to a failed or partially failed wellbore, but other observers suspect that the formation was over-pressurized.
The Alberta Energy Regulator said in a November 2013 press release that it has reached no conclusions about the cause and is actively investigating it.
But the report argues it's highly unlikely that four wellbores six kilometres apart would fail at the same time, and suggests the company has probably fractured protective caprock overlaying bitumen formations.