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Kinder Morgan's TransMountain pipeline spills near Merritt

The National Energy Board has revised its original estimate, and says 6 barrels of oil (just under 1,000 litres) spilled on Wednesday night.
Kinder Morgan crews excavate the soil contaminated by a crude oil spill from its TransMountain pipeline on Thursday about 40 km southwest of Merritt

Kinder Morgan's TransMountain pipeline has sprung a leak in the area southwest of Merritt, B.C., and the company says the spill has been contained with a revised estimate of six barrels of oil spilled. That amounts to just under 1,000 litres.

Kinder Morgan's original estimate had the spill amount at 12 barrels – or 2,000 litres of crude oil – spilled.

Kinder Morgan media relations spokesman Andrew Galarnyk said over the past couple days the company had maintenance crews in the area where the oil spill was discovered.

On Wednesday, a crew member noticed what looked like a patch of crude oil on the right-of-way. Upon further investigation, the substance was confirmed to be crude oil and as a precaution the pipeline was shut down, Galarnyk said.

"The product appeared to be isolated and we had crews on site. We notified the regulatory authorities of what was discovered and initiated excavation and repair work, which is underway as we speak, said Galarnyk.

"We identified this release, we determined that it was minor in nature and we responded immediately by shutting the line down and initiating repairs," Galarnyk said.

He estimates the spill was in the area of five to six barrels of oil was released. The size of the area they identified on the surface was two metres wide by two metres long, Galarnyk said.

He said at this point in time the cause of the leak is unknown.

"That's something that's still under investigation and we won't know for certain for some time yet," Galarnyk said.

Although he did not know how old this specific section of the TransMountain pipe is, (as various repairs and maintenance has been done on the pipeline over the years) Garanyk did say the pipeline in general has been in operation since 1953.

He said the spill is in an isolated area and doesn't pose a health risk.

"It's in a remote area, there are no nearby residents. Any neighbours who were within a kilometre of the right-of-way were notified yesterday as well as local authorities, police and fire, but there's certainly no risk to human health and the area is safe," Galarnyk said.

He said Kinder Morgan also notified its shippers of the short-term shutdown.

"We're hoping to get it back up and running as soon as possible. For a short-term shutdown there's no impact on the market or on consumers, but at the same time, we need to work with the National Energy Board before we can put the line back into service," Galarnyk said.

He said unfortunately spills like this sometimes happen but it's something they are prepared to handle.

"We train regularly for this. We are prepared in the rare occasions that these events do occur and I think we continue to provide the assurances that we do take the operation and the safety, and the maintenance of our pipeline and the surrounding community seriously," Galarnyk said.

On Thursday morning, the National Energy Board said it was responding to a "crude oil release" on the pipeline, and that it had yet to determine the size of the spill.

The NEB said in a press release that it received an incident report late Wednesday afternoon, and the pipeline has been shut down to prevent more oil from being released into the environment.

"There is no immediate safety concern for local residents and precautions are being taken to ensure continued public safety," the NEB said in a press release.

"Our emergency response team is on site," NEB Communications Advisor Rebecca Taylor told the Herald. "They're overseeing the immediate response and making sure that it's all going appropriately."

Taylor added that the first member of the response team to make it to the site is based out of Kelowna, and that the NEB has emergency response team members all over the country.

Taylor said Kinder Morgan is excavating the contaminated soil and is monitoring soil and water samples for contamination, as well as conducting wildlife assessments.

"So far, no concerns have turned up," she said. "They're on top of the monitoring and our people are there making sure they're doing what they're supposed to."

Galarnyk confirmed Kinder Morgan staff were on the scene overnight and are working to repair the line.

Kinder Morgan has been pushing for expansion and twinning of the pipeline, which carries crude oil from Edmonton to a dock in Burnaby.

The pipeline has run through the Merritt area for 60 years. If twinned, it would nearly triple in capacity, from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day.

Galarnyk said the company is hosting an open house tonight starting at 4 p.m. at Kamloops' Coast Hotel at 1250 Rogers Way and are prepared to address the spill to the public.

The proposal would see the route run through the Lac Du Bois Protected Area.

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