Alberta regulator ignores four continuing leaks, permits oilsands company to resume steam injection

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Alberta regulator permits oilsands giant to resume steam injection near Primrose leaks

By Sheila Pratt
Edmonton Journal: April 22, 2014

EDMONTON – Oilsands giant CNRL won approval to resume pumping high-pressure steam into wells on its Cold Lake lease near four sites where bitumen continues to leak to the surface uncontrolled.

The Alberta Energy Regulator has not yet determined the cause of the leaks, which totalled almost 12,000 barrels in the past year. Late last week, it approved the company’s application to resume steam injection, with lower steam pressures, to keep its Primrose wells producing.

But environmentalists say allowing steam injection to start again on the Primrose lease is premature, especially since it is not known how to stop the leaks, and the same geological formation is involved in leaks in 2013 and in 2009.

In its production, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. sends steam into the ground for weeks, builds up pressure, melts the bitumen, then brings it back up the same well — called high-pressure cyclical steaming.

This spring steaming cycle is the first injection since the leaks were discovered last May. The steaming cycle is needed to keep the wells producing.

Early last spring, the company discovered three sites where sticky bitumen had flowed into the forest, covering vegetation, and was leaking into a small lake, which has since been drained to expose the fissures on the bottom.

One theory says high-pressure steam is cracking the caprock and allowing the bitumen to flow to the surface. The company says the underground leaks start at faulty well bores.

(read the full article ay Edmonton Journal)

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