Canadian Natural Resources, Ltd. has admitted a series of never-ending spills on its property could be caused, or at least exacerbated, by its own high-pressure steaming. It’s the first time the company has admitted this, despite fact environmentalist critics have been saying it for years. And 5 years ago the Energy Resources Conservation Board (regulator before Alberta Energy Regulator) suggested as much in its report on a spill in 2009.
But for more than a year, CNRL stuck with its original story: That faulty wellbores – old holes in the rock used to extract bitumen from operations long defunct – were to blame. Then earlier this month, the company acknowledged its high-pressure cyclic steaming stimulation practices could have fractured the cap rock and cause four bitumen leaks at its site in Cold Lake.
CNRL pumps steam into the ground to build up pressure, soften bitumen and bring it to the surface. Having admitted its process and what CNRL calls natural weaknesses in the cap rock are to blame for the spills, there are no plans to change its practices.
That’s a concern to the Pembina Institute. It’s managing director, Chris Severson-Baker, says the project’s approval rests on the premise the cap rock wouldn’t crack.
Greenpeace is calling on the Alberta government to stop CNRL’s activities at Primrose and any other site that uses cyclical steam stimulation until an investigation is completed.
Steam-based bitumen extraction is one of the fastest-growing ways to get bitumen out of the ground in the province.