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Nexen Energy says systems didn't detect pipeline leak near Fort McMurray

A Nexen oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alta., is seen in this aerial photograph on July 10, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY (NEWS 1130) – Nexen Energy apologized Friday for a major leak in an Alberta pipeline that was only installed last year and said a warning system failed to detect it.

Ron Bailey, the company’s senior vice-president of Canadian operations, said it is investigating what caused the pipeline to rupture and why the system failed.

“We are deeply concerned with this and we sincerely apologize for the impact that this has caused,” Bailey told a news conference.

“We will take every step that we see as reasonable and as the regulators help us decide what to do to respond to this.”

A contractor discovered the leak Wednesday about 35 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray, Alta. Nexen shut down the pipeline soon after, but not before some five million litres of bitumen, produced water and sand spilled into muskeg.

Nexen, which was taken over by China’s CNOOC Ltd. in 2013, says the affected area is about 16,000 square metres, mostly along the pipeline’s route.

Bailey said company staff have been on site to contain the spill and prevent impact on wildlife and a nearby pond. He said the company built an all-weather road to bring in trucks to vacuum up the spill.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who was in St. John’, N.L., on Friday for the annual premiers’ meeting, said she has been receiving updates on the spill.

Notley said pipelines continue to be the safest way to carry oil and gas across the country.

“So what it comes down to is we need to learn from the spill,” she said.

A spokesman for Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd said she is in regular contact with the Alberta Energy Regulator and is monitoring the situation closely.

“We take a pipeline spill like this one very seriously, ” Brad Hartle said in a statement.

John Bennett, national program director of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, said he was worried.

“We’re always concerned when petroleum products get spilled into the environment. There’s always damage, and it’s usually permanent of some nature,” said Bennett. “It’s full of toxic elements that should not be released into the environment.”