The Mackenzie River near Norman Wells. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Imperial Oil has announced plans to hold a “full-scale emergency response exercise” in Norman Wells on August 24. The simulated scenario: crude oil flowing into the Mackenzie River.
The announcement comes not long after a real incident involving 55,000 litres of “produced water” inadvertently released into the Mackenzie in late July.
Produced water, a byproduct of oil and gas extraction, is a type of industrial waste that often contains brine, chemicals and, depending on the site, can also contain oil or naturally occurring radioactive material.
While it’s not clear if there’s any connection between the incident and the upcoming drill, the Canada Energy Regulator requires that these exercises be held annually for companies to retain their certifications. Imperial could not be immediately reached for comment.
“These little exercises are fairly normal,” said Norman Wells’ mayor, Frank Pope. “The last one I attended, they used canola oil in the river and tried to contain it, so that it would be harmless if any of it did actually get away.”
Pope says similar exercises in Norman Wells were suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Sometimes Imperial and Enbridge hold them together, sometimes they do them separately,” said Pope.
After this article was first published, Enbridge confirmed a “routine boom deployment and skimmer exercise” would be held on the Mackenzie River in Norman Wells on September 1.
“This planned training activity supports Enbridge’s ongoing efforts to continuously practice and improve our emergency response capability. No actual oil products [are] used in the boom deployment and there is no risk to the public, the environment, or waterways,” said senior communications advisor David Coll.