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Groundwater contaminated at Shell Canada Oil Sands site

The leak is being contained in the 400-metre-by-400-metre pit, but a Shell spokesman has said the company doesn’t know what is causing salt water to seep from the bottom of the pit or how to stop it.

Groundwater mapping urged to avoid more mine leaks

By Andrea Sands, Edmonton Journal December 10, 2010

Alberta needs better groundwater mapping if it wants to avoid leaks like one at a mine pit at Shell Canada’s Muskeg River site, says David Schindler, an internationally recognized University of Alberta water expert.

“Concerns over the poor mapping of groundwater in the area have been voiced for many years, and this is an example of the sort of nasty surprises that occur when we are not well prepared at the start,” Schindler said Thursday in an e-mail to The Journal.

“Environmental-impact assessments in the oilsands area are a joke — very short studies that are haphazardly done. This must change or more events like this are sure to follow.”

Schindler was reacting to news that salt water containing traces of the poisonous gas, hydrogen sulphide, has been leaking since mid-October at the bottom of a mine pit about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

The leak is being contained in the 400-metre-by-400-metre pit, but a Shell spokesman has said the company doesn’t know what is causing salt water to seep from the bottom of the pit or how to stop it.

Officials have said the situation is not a danger to the environment or the public at this point and is not considered an emergency.

Shell will have to figure out how to dispose of the salt water.

That won’t be easy, Schindler said. “Sodium chloride is highly soluble. Distillation, reverse osmosis and other techniques normally associated with desalinization plants are the only feasible solutions for large volumes of water.”

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