Little Buffalo on a map of Alberta

Little Buffalo on a map of Alberta. (Google Maps)

Little Buffalo community members, including school children,  continue to experience nausea, burning eyes and headaches after one of the largest pipeline spills in Alberta history last Friday by Plains All American leaked nearly 30,000 barrels of oil into Lubicon traditional territory in the Peace Region of Northern Alberta.

Instead of attending an in-person community meeting, the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) faxed a one-page fact sheet to Little Buffalo School. The fact sheet indicates that 28,000 barrels of crude oil, or 4,500 cubic metres, has spread into nearby stands of “stagnant water.” The spill, April 29 at 7:30 a.m., occurred only 300 metres from local waterways. The ERCB said the spill has been contained, but community members report that the oil is still leaking into the surrounding forest and bog. The ERCB also said to the community that there is “no threat to public safety as a result of the leak.” Yet people are still getting sick, the local school has been shut down and children ordered to stay at home. An investigation into the incident is underway.

“It has been four days since classes were suspended due to the noxious odours in the air. The children and staff at the school were disorientated, getting headaches and feeling sick to their stomachs,” said Brian Alexander, the principle of Little Buffalo School. “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. 

“The company and the ERCB have given us little information in the past five days.  What we do know is that the health of our community is at stake,” said Chief Steve Nosky. “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.”

The ERCB fact sheet states that air monitors are in place on site and have “detected no hydrocarbon levels above Alberta Ambient Air Quality guidelines.” But this is little consolation for a community that is scared to breathe the air. Veronica Okemow has six children, the youngest one attending the school, and she is very worried. “We are deeply concerned about the health effects on the community,” Okemow said. “It is a scary thing when your children are feeling sick from the air. People are scared to breathe in the fumes.”

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation and also a Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner said: “The Plains All American spill marks the second pipeline spill in Alberta in just a week, with Kinder Morgan spilling just days before. This is an alarm bell for Alberta residents. If this 45-year-old pipeline were to break elsewhere along its route there would be more safety and health hazards. Communities across Alberta and B.C. are demanding an end to this type of risky development; yet the government refuses to listen. Instead it continues on as business as usual without plans for the cleaner, healthier, sustainable future that is possible.”