Written by By Eyal Weizman, CNN
A massive cleanup at a southern Alberta site where the Canadian company Enbridge has polluted an area of soil and water with more than 100 oil spills over the last decade is imminent, officials said Friday.
Since the Alberta pollution began happening in 2010, “we’ve probably put in two and a half billion dollars in cleanup,” Enbridge Vice President of federal policy, Paul Slovic, told reporters.
“But at the end of the day, the cleanup that we have going on today may be considered insignificant in hindsight,” he said, estimating that it will take another two decades to clean up the site.
The events first came to light in 2017, when a 2,000-acre property along the Fort Chipewyan Cree Nation land was discovered to be the place where 55 million liters of oil were dumped each year — over 1 billion gallons of oil for the entire territory, which covers approximately 550 square miles.
The area is located about 90 miles north of the oil sands town of Fort McMurray, which was once a hotbed of industry. It now sits nearly empty and coated in a murky froth, as 2.5 miles of its pristine coastline is covered with tar balls.
The two accidents are arguably the most serious environmental accidents Canada has seen, due to the scope of their damage.
And now, because of their scope, the region is considered one of the world’s top risks for oil spills.
“Having lost the economy and having lost human population and economic activity, the only way to regain life is to reverse it … by installing clean technology,” Slovic said.
The cleanup will begin next month. The pilot run involves fracking in another part of the area and will protect adjacent land and wildlife, officials said.
“We’ve got enough testing done on fracking and some mitigation done on it … that we’ve got more confidence to move forward,” Slovic said.
A previous, smaller cleanup project in the area proved to be massively successful, with just one spill of less than 100 gallons.
Enbridge also completed a cleanup project last month on an almost 3,000-square-mile area of land that it mined for natural gas. But the company is still awaiting authorization to do future work there, although Slovic said Enbridge is working to keep the project on track.
Officials added that the decision to approve the project was made last week, meaning it is now back on the federal government’s agenda.