Animals Full of Swollen Black Intestines Eight Years After Pipeline Rupture in Canada

Oil spill still poisoning wildlife years later, native band charges. Hunters say they’re finding animals full of swollen, black intestines and possibly tumours. Eight years ago, a pipeline ruptured in a remote section of northeastern British Columbia, spilling a thick, viscous mixture of more than 1,000 barrels of oil and saltwater into a boggy area near Doig River. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. moved quickly on the West Peejay spill and later won praise for following “all the proper procedures.” But long after officials signed off on the cleanup, hunters from the small Doig River band began returning with troubling reports that moose, caribou and other wildlife were being drawn to the location, and to other abandoned oil and gas sites in the region, to lick salty, polluted soil. Then stories started to spread through northern villages of hunters finding moose that had “green meat” – swollen, black intestines and possible tumors. Now the B.C. government and industry are taking a hard second look at the area, amid growing demands from natives to fence off or clean up sites that may have become dangerous salt licks for animals. The issue is the focus of a documentary report by producer Kelvin Redvers, to be aired Sunday at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, on CTV British Columbia’s First Story. It will be posted on the web at Kelvin Davis, a 55-year-old member of the Doig River band, says he first began to suspect there was trouble several years ago when he noticed moose were growing thin. Then he stuck a knife in one he’d just shot, opened the body cavity and flinched at what he saw. “The long intestine is thick, it’s not healthy. It looks like there are bumps and water and black and really it looks awful,” he said, recalling the summer hunt that was supposed to provide his family with fresh meat. Mr. Davis, a former chief, said he left that moose to rot in the bush and knows of others who have done the same thing, with some saying they found green meat, or yellow-green lumps under the skin. “When we come upon a moose in that condition we don’t want to eat it,” he said. “Back in the day before this whole development started … the moose were fat … the lungs and intestines nice and healthy.” Mr. Davis is convinced there is a link between the sick moose and old industrial sites spotted throughout the area where oil and salty water residues have created salt licks. The worst site, he said, is at West Peejay, about 140 kilometres north of Fort St. John, where one of the 11 hectares tainted by the 2002 spill has been fenced, leaving the rest open to wildlife. Jane Calvert, land manager for the Doig River band, said there have been reports of moose, caribou and waterfowl using the West Peejay site. “We brought this up as a concern to the company. They are really not taking this seriously… they say well, we’ll go back to the site and do more studies,” she said. Chris Maundrell, a biologist whose consulting firm, Adlard Environmental Ltd., did a 2008 Health Canada study on contaminants in moose in the region, said native people in B.C.’s busy northeast oil and gas sector do have reason for concern, though the extent of risk isunclear. “Every community I talked to had people that had taken down a moose and when they opened it up decided they would leave the moose where it was at because they felt the meat was unhealthy,” he said. “Unfortunately, those particular moose they harvested and decided to leave behind, they never took any tissue samples in, so they were never analyzed to see if they met any of the contaminated levels by Health Canada, or to see just what the toxin was,” said Mr. Maundrell. He harvested 20 moose, half of them taken in a region with oil and gas wells and half in a pristine control area, and found those near industrial sites “had significantly higher levels of heavy metal concentrations.” But Mr. Maundrell said the levels did not pose a human health concern, and more research needs to be done before any conclusions can be drawn about the source of the heavy metals. “We didn’t actually find a link to hydrocarbons in that study, we found what would be called anecdotal information that suggested there could be a problem, but it was not a defined link,” he said, adding that his study has not been followed up. The B.C. Ministry of Environment stated in an e-mail that Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. has been instructed to take additional steps at the West Peejay site. “Spills such as this can take years to remediate, however, the Ministry of Environment has become concerned that the clean-up is taking too long and has made this site a higher priority,” it states. “The ministry has … recently directed the company to improve its fencing around the contaminated area to keep wildlife out.” The Ministry also said an expert will be hired “to assess if there is any risk to wildlife, including caribou.” In 2004, Iris Environmental Systems Inc., did a report for the Doig River band, in which it confirmed that “caribou were indeed using the site and ingesting the soil.” The report states that “CNRL has followed all of the proper procedures … [and is] committed to ensuring that site remediation is continued and effective.” Bill Clapperton, vice-president, regulatory, stakeholder and environmental affairs for CNR Ltd., said his company became aware the Doig River band had ongoing concerns only last year. He said the company had responded quickly when the spill hit, but cleaning up is a long, slow process. “Well, obviously it is a terrible thing having a spill, very unfortunate, but the process we’ve determined, along with the regulator, is to do an in situ cleanup,” he said. “What that means is that we’ve got drainage systems set up in there to have the [oily water] collect over time and remediate that way, and you actually minimize the amount of material you have to take to a landfill.” Mr. Clapperton said the site wasn’t fenced initially because “we had determined, with a third-party consultant, that the wildlife wasn’t at risk.” He said since the Doig River band raised the issue last year, the company has hired a contractor to fence the entire site, but “we’re still waiting on the land department in Doig River to approve the fencing.” On the broader issue of wildlife feeding on polluted, salty soils around well sites and sumps, Mr. Clapperton said the oiland gas industry is grappling with the problem throughout northeastern B.C. “I know that’s been a concern for a number of years in B.C.,” he said. “Our group takes those concerns seriously and [we] have plans in place to address all those sites at risk to wildlife.” ((12 NOV 2010))














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