Manitoba government defends oilpatch oversight

Companies caught dumping oilfield waste in ditches are responsible for cleaning it up, a Manitoba government official said in an email to the Manitoba Co-operator last week.

The official was responding to Cromer farmer Carlyle Jorgensen’s complaint, reported in the Nov. 1 Co-operator, that the province’s Petroleum Branch isn’t doing enough to discourage improper waste disposal.

The email states what companies are supposed to do in the event of an “off lease” spill of more than half a cubic metre (500 litres), including reporting it to the Petroleum Branch within 24 hours.

“Inspectors attempt to immediately attend to any spill reported by industry or the public and take action that is appropriate to the situation,” the official wrote.

Jorgensen says inspectors failed to respond when he reported a spill in a ditch in the RM of Wallace earlier this year.

“I guess the ‘attempt’ would be called unsuccessful in this case,” he said in a followup interview Nov. 2.

The official wrote that companies are fully responsible for entirely cleaning up spills and fixing any damage.

“Each spill is cleaned up to ensure no ongoing environmental contamination.”

It’s unacceptable that spills of up to 499 litres don’t have to be reported or cleaned up, Jorgensen said. Farmers are required to report and clean up much smaller spills of gasoline or herbicides such as Liberty, he said.

“I think that again reinforces the bias to the oil industry,” he said.

All spill sites must be rehabilitated, the official wrote. Petroleum Branch inspectors inspect rehabilitation sites to ensure the work is down properly.

In 2011 there were 97 spills in Manitoba — up 73 per cent from the five-year average, the official wrote.

“Ninety-seven spills (in a year) that’s two a week,” Jorgensen said. “Doesn’t that sound like a problem? And a 73 per cent increase, isn’t that something you would consider a problem?”

Although the number of spills was up, the total volume was down 23 per cent from the five-year average to 704 cubic metres (704,000 litres), the official wrote.

“Average spill size in 2011 is 7.6 m3 (7,600 litres), 54 per cent less than the five-year average,” the official wrote. “Most spills are quite small and contained on oil and gas facility sites. There are very few spills compared to the large volume of oil and accompanying salt water that is produced each year by the industry.”

About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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