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Spill cleanup drags on

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Mar 18/05) - Nearly eight months after an inquisitive black bear caused an oil spill outside of Fort Simpson, crews are still mopping some of the estimated 12,000 litres of crude that seeped into the ground.

The oil leaked from a unmanned pumping station along the Enbridge Pipeline last July after a bear broke into the unlocked shack and knocked open a release valve. The equivalent of 110 barrels of oil spilled from the line, which carries crude from Norman Wells to Zama, Alta.

The cleanup has been complicated by the rough ground and muskeg around the station, said Bruce DeBaie, a public affairs advisor with Enbridge.

"The terrain is challenging," he said. "But we will ensure no free product is left (on the site)."

The cleanup crew ran into a snag last month when a worker accidentally bumped a valve in the station, sending a thin mist of oil into the air, he said.

Enbridge was forced to shut down the pipeline for about an hour, but the ground did not become contaminated, he said.

The company reported the mishap to the National Energy Board, which is overseeing the cleanup of the July spill. Jamie Kereliuk, an environmental specialist with the board, said only a "negligible" amount of oil was released into the environment during the February accident.

"It would barely even register," he said.

The vast majority of the oil from the earlier spill has been cleaned up, though crews continue to dig up contaminated soil around the site, DeBaie said. Enbridge reached an agreement with the village to dump the soil at the Fort Simpson landfill.

Enbridge hopes to have the work done by the time the Mackenzie Valley Winter Road closes - a date the territorial Department of Transportation has tentatively scheduled for next week.

Kereliuk said his department, along with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, would examine the ground around the station after the cleanup is complete. Since the spill, Enbridge has installed padlocks on its unmanned station doors, DeBaie said.

Kereliuk added his department was "satisfied with the corrective actions."