Emergency crews are working to clean up a massive oil spill from a broken pipeline in Alberta as regulators disclosed the leak was much larger than originally thought.
Energy regulators said 28,000 barrels of oil have oozed into the soil and collected into pools along the pipeline's path north-east of Peace River - initial estimates put the leak at several hundred barrels. It is the largest pipeline leak in Alberta in 36 years.
The leak in Plains Midstream Canada's Rainbow pipeline was discovered late last week. The pipeline, which runs 479 miles from the Norman Wells pipeline in Zama, Alberta, to Edmonton, was shut down and both ends sealed off.
Steve Nosky, the chief of the aboriginal community Lubicon Cree, said that children in the area had been falling ill due to the leak. "They were getting nauseous. They were getting headaches and they were sent home," he said.
Davis Sheremata, a spokesman for Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board, said the school and town are about 18 miles from the spill and denied problems were connected to the leak.
Mr Sheremata said air quality monitors have not detected any contaminant levels above established guidelines.
Residents in the rural area of Three Creeks, also near Peace River, have complained for more than a year for the province to do something about powerful gassy, tarry smells that waft over their fields, pastures and yards.
There, too, officials pointed to air quality monitors that were not finding problems. But eventually the government acknowledged the odour came from the oil patch and that it was causing headaches and nausea.
Repairs to the Plains Midstream line were expected to be completed by the end of the week, although the restart depends on regulatory approval. The lower half of the line into Edmonton has continued to operate, delivering about half the line's normal volume.
The company said it has not yet diagnosed the cause, but noted on its website that the leak appears to be a singular failure and not a systemic problem. Mr Sheremata said investigators are digging out the pipe to get their first look at the hole that caused the spill. Early indications were it was a large break, he said.