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Alberta’s Biggest Oil Spill Since 1975 Casts More Doubt on Oil Sands

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As details emerge about a 28,000-barrel oil spill from a pipeline rupture in northern Alberta, Canada, environmentalists and indigenous leaders are calling for a halt to the notion of mining crude from the notorious oil sands.

President Obama’s administration is mulling over approval of the Keystone XL project proposed by TransCanada Pipelines, which would stretch 1,700 miles from Canada and across the U.S. Midwest to Texas.

According to the Globe and Mail, 300 workers are cleaning up the Alberta spill in the Rainbow pipeline system, near the Peace River. Fumes sickened members of a Cree community, forced the closing of a school and killed several animals. Part of the spill was being held in check by a beaver dam, the Globe and Mail said on May 6.

The fumes caused officials in the Little Buffalo community in northern Alberta to suspend classes as nausea, burning eyes and headaches plagued the school’s K-12 students.

“The children and staff at the school were disorientated, getting headaches and feeling sick to their stomachs,” said principal Brian Alexander in the statement. “We tried to send the children outside to get fresh air as it seemed worse in the school but when we sent them out they were getting sick as well.”

Chief Steve Noskey said the community had received little information from the company or regulatory officials.

“What we do know is that the health of our community is at stake,” Noskey said in the statement. “Our children cannot attend school until there is a resolution. The ERCB is not being accountable to our community; they did not even show up to our community meeting to inform us of the unsettling situation we are dealing with. The company is failing to provide sufficient information to us so we can ensure that the health and safety of our community is protected.”

Plains Midstream recovered about 1,900 barrels, or seven percent, of the spilled oil, the week after the spill, the company said on its website. On May 4 the company said it had contained the spill, repaired the pipeline and was awaiting regulatory approval to start up again.

The Rainbow pipeline stretches 480 miles from Zama to Edmonton, Alberta, with an additional 114 miles of gathering pipelines, Plains Midstream said. The system pumped about 187,000 barrels per day during 2010 and has the capacity to pump 220,000 barrels daily.

This is Alberta’s biggest pipeline spill in 36 years, a regulator told the Calgary Herald. In 1975, Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) spokesperson Davis Sheremata told the newspaper, the Bow Valley line leaked 40,000 barrels.

Little Buffalo officials said that “community members report that the oil is still leaking into the surrounding forest and bog.”