CALGARY, Alberta, Sept 24 Canadian Natural
Resources Ltd has been ordered to drain a lake on the
site of its northern Alberta oil sands project so that
contamination on the lake's bottom, from a leak that has been
spilling tar-like bitumen for months, can be cleaned up.
The province of Alberta's environment department issued an
environmental protection order on Tuesday that compels the
company to drain a two-thirds of the 53-hectare (131-acre) lake
on its Primrose East thermal oil sands site before the onset of
winter to prevent further contamination.
Canadian Natural, Canada's largest independent oil producer,
reported in late June that bitumen was coming to the surface on
the bottom of the lake.
The environment department said water quality in the lake
has not been affected but it did not say why. Bitumen is heavier
than water, however.
The leak, one of four on the sprawling project site, sprung
up from an oil sands reserve produced by a process that melts
bitumen with high-pressure steam so that it can be moved and
processed. The leak has yet to be stopped, and has become the
latest focus for environmentalists concerned about the impact
oil sands production.
"The Alberta government should, at a minimum, put a hold on
approving new underground tar sands operations until we
understand how these leaks are happening and if other sites
could run into similar problems," Mike Hudema, a climate and
energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada, said in a statement.
The order says the company must pump the water from the area
of the lake that is in the vicinity of leak into the third of
the lake where it can be contained by a road that cuts across
the water body. Then the cleanup of the spill site can be
"Doing the work during the winter minimizes the
environmental impact," said Trevor Gemmell, a spokesman for the
Alberta environment department.
Canadian Natural said in a statement it is working with
regulators to clean up the leak and that the order will allow it
to access the fissure below the lake.
"Canadian Natural will continue to make available any
necessary resources for investigation, clean-up and towards
putting safeguards in place to ensure events such as these do
not happen again," the company said.