Cleanup continues in the RM of Pipestone after an oil spill the size of two football fields was discovered last January.
Upwards of 100,000 litres of oil seeped into surrounding farmland as a result of a broken pipe located south of Highway 255 near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.
The pipeline, owned by Winnipeg-based Tundra Oil & Gas Partnership, also lies near Jackson Creek, which feeds into the Souris River.
About 15 vertical feet of contaminated earth has been largely removed from the affected area.
The owner of the affected farmland refused to comment when contacted by the Sun and directed inquiries to Tundra.
Due to oil activity increasing in the southwestern part of Manitoba, the number of reported spills has been on a steady increase.
According to provincial numbers, there were 90 spills from oil and gas facilities in Manitoba last year, with the largest case spilling 120,000 litres of oil.
The Tundra spill is the largest in the province this year and it looks like 2013 is well on its way to matching last year’s numbers with 47 spills so far.
Area landowner Carlyle Jorgensen said the oil seeping into the ground is a paramount concern, but the fluid from the Tundra line is around 30 per cent saltwater, which can also cause decades of devastation to farmland.
"There’s land in the Virden area that had salt water spilled on it 1950s and that land still doesn’t produce today."
Jorgensen is also the vice-president of the Manitoba Surface Rights Association (MSRA), a group of about 200 landowners in southwestern Manitoba, and the plans to lobby the government to implement more regulation to decrease the amount of pipeline spills.
"Knowing that there has been other flowline issues in the last year, my concern is what is being done to prevent this, these are new flowlines that have been breaking," he said.
Tundra insists that the spill itself is small.
And while Jorgensen agrees, he says this latest spill shows the potential for something more devastating.
"This spill was (from) a very low producing well," he said.
"And I agree this is a very, very small spill ... it’s nothing compared to what could happen in this province and if changes aren’t made to regulations, it will happen."
It’s estimated it took about 10 days for the leak in the Tundra line to be noticed and the MSRA argues that’s still too long considering operations should be checked on a daily basis.
"The production from these wells should be tracked daily as well," Jorgensen said. "We feel that the province needs some specific regulations for the oil companies to follow because leaving it up to the oil companies obviously isn’t working."
Both the government and the oil companies have not released estimated costs associated with the spill.
The cleanup was initially a race against the spring thaw to ensure oil didn’t reach the melted creek, but crews have started putting up a berm to redirect Jackson Creek away from the site.
Tundra president and CEO Dan MacLean said the reason for the spill hasn’t been confirmed yet, however it is thought the ground collapsed after Calgary-based Enbridge, Inc. installed a 16-inch steel line underneath Tundra’s existing line in November 2012.
"The long and the short of it is, they (Enbridge) opened up our line to go underneath it, and then when they backfilled on it, they used sand to support our line, and our experience is you have to use sand bags, as opposed to loose sand," MacLean said.
"It looks like it’s a stress break (from) the overburden that was put on it."
Weyburn, Sask.-based Matrix Environmental is leading the cleanup efforts.
Because the Tundra line was so deep, as a means to accommodate Enbridge’s initial plan to place its line above Tundra’s, the oil flowed down through a layer of gravel where the oil can travel very quickly.
MacLean also confirmed there is a water table underneath the line and said "we’re not seeing a lot of free oil in the water table."
"We’ve been working feverishly since January, when it was discovered, to get as much of this out," MacLean said.
"Basically we have to dig out all the contaminated dirt."
The "lion’s share" of the spill should be dug out by next week, MacLean said.
He said the company will continue to clean up after the spring breakup and insurance companies for both Tundra and Enbridge will investigate the definitive cause, however neither company can confirm how long that will take.
Enbridge declined to speculate on the cause of the line break, but a spokesperson said they do have on-site workers overlooking the cleanup effort, which is also monitored by the province’s department of innovation, energy and mines.
"It’s not something we’d speculate on at this time from our standpoint," said Enbridge spokesperson Graham White.
RM of Pipestone Reeve Ross Tycoles was not available for comment.
According to a provincial spokesperson, the contaminated soil has been removed from the site and is being stockpiled at an adjacent containment cell away from the spill to be treated.
"So far our department is satisfied with the efforts of Tundra Oil & Gas," said the spokesperson via email. "They are carrying out their responsibility for the spill cleanup and are working 24 hours a day to prepare the site to minimize any potential environmental impacts associated with the spring melt."
The Oil and Gas Act requires companies to report all off-lease spills from an oil or gas facilities to the petroleum branch.
"All oil and gas spill sites are rehabilitated to conditions as near as possible to the surrounding conditions before being released from rehabilitation," the spokesperson said.
Companies can be charged under the act, but the majority of "accidental spills" are not met with government penalty and a final decision has not been made on this case.
According to the government, affected landowners are compensated by the company for any damages to their lands, including compensation for any current or future crop loss.
The Manitoba government does rely on oil and gas companies to self-regulate, but companies must report spills to the government and show what they are doing to clean up and prevent them from happening again.
Companies are then expected to apply those measures to other wells.
Innovation, Energy and Mines Minister Dave Chomiak did not speak to the Sun on the matter, but his press secretary sent a statement on his behalf.
"Although the processes we currently have in place are effective in encouraging safe and efficient development of our oil and gas industry we are always looking for ways to minimize the number of spills and ensure a quick cleanup," the statement read.