2.5 Million Gallons of Toxic Waste Just Spilled in Alberta

Both Alberta and the company responsible, Apache Corp, held off for more than a week on publicly disclosing the information about the spill

A tar sands mine in Alberta
A tar sands mine in Alberta Lou Gold

A tar sands mine in Alberta. Photo: Lou Gold

Alberta’s oil and gas industry* just had another “whoops” moment. On June 1st, officials spotted a major toxic waste spill in the northern part of the province, the Globe and Mail reports. All told, 2.5 million gallons of “produced water” – which contains hydrocarbons, sulfurous compounds, metals, oil and high levels of salt, a toxic mix for plants – spewed into wetlands and contaminated some tributaries. Trees in the area have already begun to turn brown, the Globe and Mail continues, and officials think the spill may have occurred months ago, before anyone noticed.

It comes amid heightened sensitivity about pipeline safety, as the industry faces broad public opposition to plans for a series of major new oil export pipelines to the U.S., British Columbia and eastern Canada.

Even after officials spotted the spill, both Alberta and the company responsible, Apache Corp, held off on publicly disclosing the information. It wasn’t until someone tipped off a local TV station that the news went public, over a week after the spill’s discovery. Officials told the Globe and Mail that they were waiting until they figured out how big the spill was to disclose the information to the public.

Environmental groups have long criticized the government for being slow to notify the public when things go wrong with the oil industry, the province’s financial lifeblood.

The spill, thought to be the largest in North America in recent years, is the third major leak in Alberta, the Globe and Mail writes, including one burst pipeline that spilled nearly one million gallons of oil in May 2012. 

Apache said in a statement that it has halted the leak and “taken steps to contain the release as the company continues to map, sample and monitor the impacted areas.”

An earlier version of this story suggested that the spill was near Alberta’s tar sands. It has been amended to reflect the fact that the spill did not occur near a tar sands operation. 

More from Smithsonian.com:

Oil Pipeline Spills Heavy Crude in Arkansas  
The World’s Worst Oil Spills 

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