In the summer of 2012, the town of Sundre, Alberta got an unexpected lube job. A Plains Midstream pipeline burst open, spilling a reported 3000 barrels of light sour crude into the Red Deer River, from Sundre down to the Gleniffer Lake Reservoir. I showed up there about a week after the initial spill, hired by a pipeline friend of mine, to help with the cleanup. After about five days there I was promoted to running a crew, apparently because I was an “expert” at cleaning up oil spills. In fact, it was my first oil spill ever. In those first days I couldn’t believe what had passed the test as “clean”, and so I spoke up and was given a crew to help out.
Without getting into the details and politics of it all, (I would have to write a novel, and in all certainty be hunted down by a henchman working for the oil mafia and rolled in a carpet and thrown in the ocean) I did have one of the best summers of my life. The first few months were quite productive, sort of, as far as oil cleaning went. Long days in the sun, meeting weird great people, and witnessing the machine that is the oil spill clean up process.
We fished a lot, drank even more, and worked long days doing strange tasks that most time didn’t make much sense to me. I’ve realized that the names of my best friends that summer were not their real names. Everyone had a nickname; Hooker, Muthafukkin Jones!, Sasquatch, Brown Town, Hot Lips, Fuck Eyes …. I still don’t know what their real names are, and I don’t think it would really ever matter. We rented a trailer just outside of town and had some of the wildest parties I’ve ever had the fortune of surviving. I learned how to start bonfires with molotov cocktails ….
The oil spill cleanup process was unfortunately a very sad thing to be a part of. I’ve come to realize how Nazi Germany operated; that people follow orders from those in higher authority than themselves, in fear of losing their positions because they are expendable. I saw a lot of this (obviously not in the realm of the Nazis), but a lot of us didn’t speak up when we knew what we were doing was wrong. The machinery was in place to complete a certain task, which I realize was not to actually clean up the oil as it was to create the illusion of a clean up process. If it didn’t completely devastate such a beautiful place, I would almost find it tragically hilarious. The thing that kinda haunts me now, is the fact that the oil spill area was completely accessible. There were roads going into every area we needed to get into. What if this were to happen in northern BC? The Arctic? How would those responsible react and respond to the challenges of that terrain? We are an oil dependant bunch of apes, but there surely must be solutions to deal with responsibility and accountability.
So maybe now the area is clean, probably not. People are still told not to keep the fish they catch out of the Red Deer River, and Plains Midstream is still making plenty of bucks. But what the hell do I know? Im not an expert on what constitutes “clean” in the oil business. I haven’t even showered in 3 days ….
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