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AltaGas confirms 35-metre pipeline oil spill on Hobbema land

An oil spill has been confirmed in the small First Nations community of Hobbema, Alberta, after a farmer reported hearing a loud bang 10 days ago. A spokesperson from AltaGas Ltd. confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the rupture occurred on one of their pipelines, and that cleanup crews were currently on site beginning remediation.

Earlier reports from the Globe and Mail stated that subsidiary AltaGas Utilities denied the spill was from their pipeline, but the parent company has now indicated that it was in fact part of their system.

Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema explained the current situation in an interview with the Observer:

"We have received confirmation that a spill has occurred on an Altagas pipeline, about 15 minutes away from the town site of Hobbema, on the Hobbema First Nation," he said.

"The farmer whose land it occurred on said that he heard a boom 10 days ago, when the rupture started. Then his children actually found the spill actually coming to the surface just yesterday. So the company arrived on scene, from what we've heard, today at around 12 o'clock, and has begun trying to clean up the site and find out how large it is.

"We still don't know, but from the reports we have it's 75 feet wide minimum on the surface. How much is underground, and how much else has been spilled, we don't know at this point."

The company said that they received word of the spill Tuesday around noon, having been notified by a local producer that the farmer had contacted.

"We immediately dispatched a team, secured the site, then isolated and de-pressured the system. We moved a team on site late yesterday, initiated our cleanup and investigation, and that is continuing on as we speak," AltaGas told the Observer.

They also said workers are currently still in the process of determining the amount of oil leaked from the pipeline, as well as the exact makeup of the substance that had been spilled.

“This is a sweet gas gathering pipeline that transports gas from producers’ wellheads to our Bonnie Glen processing plant. And the constituents of what would have come out of the well would have included mainly methane, so natural gas, but there would also be [natural gas] liquids, as well as a little bit of produced water," said a company spokesperson.

“The spill is contained to a relatively small area, about 35 metres by 35 metres. We’ve already started cleaning up the site and removing soil and liquids, and we’ll have it remediated and back to a normal condition with a little bit of time here.”

Despite assurances about remediation, environmental groups like Greenpeace have expressed concern about the length of time it took before action was taken by the company or by provincial authorities.

"I think some of the concerning things are, of course we're still trying to confirm some of the details, but if this rupture did occur 10 days ago, why has it taken the company so long to respond?" asked Hudema.

"Why are we only getting confirmation after organizations like Greenpeace and other media outlets are starting to make inquiries into it? Why is that the only time we get confirmation that the spill had actually taken place?"

Hudema said Greenpeace was still trying to obtain details on when it was first reported, but said if information from the farmers was true -- that the oil has been leaking for 10 days -- and the company is only responding to it now, it is "very worrying." 

"It's in some ways very ironic that this is happening on the same day that First Nations are in Toronto protesting another pipeline (the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline)," Hudema added, referring to the high-profile "Freedom Train" protests targeted at Enbridge's annual shareholders' meeting. 

As news coverage begins to draw attention to the spill, it appears some community members in Hobbema still don't know anything about the incident. A call to the local general store, for instance, revealed that residents had little to no information about what happened.

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