Oil sands technology questioned after series of leaks polluting aquifers

Oil sands technology questioned after series of leaks polluting aquifers

Pipelines at Canadian Natural Resources Limited's (CNRL) Primrose Lake oil sands project.

Environmentalists are questioning a technology used by Canadian Natural Resources (TSX, NYSE:CNQ) to extract crude from its oil sands operations in Alberta, following a second leak at the firm’s Wolf Lake project, which seriously contaminated an aquifer in late October.

According to Alberta Energy Regulator, a few days after CNRL reported the well break, it discovered elevated levels of hydrocarbons in the aquifer about 10 kilometres away from the firm’s Primrose East property.

The Wolf Lake project was using a method called cyclic steam stimulation, which according to Canadian Press, is the same technology that was being used at CNRL's Primrose site during a spill in 2013, where nearly 1 million litres of bitumen leaked into the surrounding area.

Earlier this year the regulator investigated another leak from a CNRL well. The agency said 27,000 litres of crude bitumen were released underground on January 3 at Primprose.

In an interview this weekend, Greenpeace Canada's Keith Stewart told CP the technology has caused concerns since 2009, but authorities have yet to take any action.

The energy regulator says CNRL must clean up the aquifer located about 60 kilometres northwest of Cold Lake. Stewart, however, says he doubts that is even possible as the chemicals involved to filter out are known to be extremely tough.

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