Canadian Manufacturing

Groups want inquiry into oil sands steam extraction method

80 per cent of the oil sands may eventually be accessed by pumping steam underground rather than open-pit mining; group says it's important to get it right



CALGARY—More than 20 groups are calling for a public inquiry into the safety of oil sands extraction techniques that use steam.

Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association says 80 per cent of the oil sands may eventually be accessed by pumping steam underground, rather than open-pit mining, so it’s important to get it right.

The organizations made their demand to the Alberta Energy Regulator as bitumen continues to ooze out of the ground at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.’s Primrose East oil-sands project.

At Primrose, Canadian Natural uses a technology called cyclic steam stimulation to soften the tarry bitumen so it can flow to the surface.

The company says mechanical failures on old wellbores are to blame for the leak, though the Alberta Energy Regulator says it still doesn’t know the cause.

The damage has been contained to a 13.5-hectare area and the Canadian Natural estimates less than 20 barrels—nearly 3,200 litres—seeps from four locations per day.

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