Rainbow Pipeline Incident

 Questions and Answers


Site Remediation and Reclamation


Q:  What has been the timeline of activities on site since the Rainbow Pipeline incident?


A:  On April 29, 2011, Plains Midstream Canada confirmed a release of crude oil along a remote section of the Rainbow pipeline located in Northern Sunrise County approximately 100 km northeast of Peace River, AB. The released crude oil affected about 8.3 ha (20.5 acres) on the pipeline’s right of way and adjacent treed areas and ponds.


Within three months of the release, all recoverable free oil was removed from the release site.


On August 30, 2011, Plains received approval from the ERCB to restart the pipeline and resumed service on the northern segment of the pipeline. As part of the restart conditions:

  • Integrity dig sites were excavated and submitted, and integrity management plans were inspected and completed.
  • Weekly aerial patrols continued and additional pilot training was carried out to enhance pipeline surveillance.
  • Improvements to procedures, roles and responsibilities and lessons learned from the incident were integrated into procedural documents and operations personnel were trained.
  • Plains implemented a comprehensive Community Communication plan to ensure continued open and clear communication with local communities and stakeholders.

In remediated areas where oil contamination was removed, including pond shorelines and along beaver runs, native species of vegetation showed re-growth by fall 2011. Grasses and small shrubs also began returning to areas where rig mats were removed and in the pond areas. The majority of the remaining clean-up operations focused on soil remediation.

Once remediation of the site was completed in December 2011, the site remained undisturbed over the winter. In spring and summer 2012, favourable weather and growing conditions permitted the re-growth of vegetation cover, restoring habitat for area wildlife.

As the remediated footprint continued to return to conditions similar to the surrounding environment, environmental specialists monitored the site during the spring transition, and continued with reclamation activities as outlined in the reclamation plan. As the warmer spring and summer weather set in and ground conditions allowed, on-site activities focused on:

  • Inspections of the release footprint to identify any settlement, vegetation or weed issues so they could be addressed;
  • Surface and groundwater sampling and analysis;
  • Final grading and contouring of the site, if necessary; and
  • Touch-up seeding and seedling planting to re-establish vegetative cover.

In November 2012, nearly one year after remediation activities at the clean-up site were completed, restoration continues to progress well. The area continues to return to conditions similar to the surrounding environment.

Ongoing site inspections and assessments confirm that oil contamination has been removed from the site. Remediation of the site is complete, and Plains continues to oversee reclamation activities on site as per our reclamation plan. Aerial and on-the-ground monitoring and testing of the remediated release footprint is ongoing.

Rainbow Pipeline Incident Facts:

  • At the peak, over 400 people were employed, with significant representation from the local communities comprising the single largest labour force on site.
  • Over 5,000 rig mats, made of timber, composite and rubber were used to build temporary roads, to extend access roads to support response efforts, and to encircle the release footprint.
  • Over one kilometre of biodegradable coconut matting was used for remediation and reclamation efforts.
  • Over five kilometres of wildlife deterrent flagging was installed and over seven kilometres of wildlife fence was constructed and maintained.
  • Over 15,000 tonnes of locally sourced gravel was brought in to maintain the main access road.


Q:  What is the current status of the clean-up?


A:  Remediation (removal of oil contamination) of the site was completed in December 2011. Nearly one year after remediation activities at the clean-up site were completed, the area continues to return to conditions similar to the surrounding environment (grasses and small shrubs have revegetated, white spruce seedlings were planted, and clean organic material previously collected was placed back in the area to encourage wildlife habitat). Additional updates can be found on the Clean-up Updates page.


Plains Midstream Canada remains committed to completing a comprehensive clean up of the site, and will work to ensure the land is properly restored to meet all applicable environmental standards.


Q:  What work has been done on the site to date?

A:  All of the clean-up and remediation work, including excavation and handling of oil-contaminated soils, was completed by December 2011. The majority of the reclamation work was also completed at that time, with remaining reclamation work occurring in summer 2012.


Q:  Has all of the oil been cleaned up?

A:  Yes, all recoverable free oil has been removed from the footprint, and all of the contaminated soil has been removed for disposal or treatment on site.


Q:  How was the contaminated soil removed from or treated at the site?

A:  All oil-contaminated soil has been removed from the release site – either by hauling the soil to approved waste disposal facilities, or treating the soil on site. The soil was tested to ensure it met the criteria for disposal. Some of the contaminated soil was treated on site using a Thermal Desorption Unit (TDU), which eliminated oil from the soil, allowing the treated soil to be used in reclamation.


Q:  What work remains on site?

A:  The remaining site work will focus on promoting good growing conditions so that the vegetation can re-establish within the clean up areas.


Q:  What does the site currently look like? 

A:  The October 15, 2012 photos and video on the Photos and Media webpage show the site in the midst of the reclamation process. While much of the reclamation work was completed, time is now needed for the re-growth of vegetation cover.


Q:  What will the footprint look like at the end of this summer?

A:  Reclamation work has focused on creating the conditions to allow the remediated footprint to return to conditions similar to the surrounding environment. It is expected that tree seedlings planted in spring will be established and volunteer grasses and those seeded in the fall will cover the area.


Q:  When will the reclamation process be complete?

A:  Plains is working to complete the reclamation work as soon as possible. It may take a number of years until adequate vegetative cover is achieved. Plains will continue to monitor the site conditions.


Q:  How long will you employ local workers?

A:  Plains remains committed to local hiring. Throughout the clean-up and remediation activities, Plains has focused on hiring local workers and contractors. Following spring thaw, Plains will assess the reclamation work required on site, and work with local contractors and communities.  


Incident overview


Q:  What was Plains’ immediate response to the pipeline incident?  

A:  At approximately 7:50 a.m. (Mountain time) on April 29, 2011 we confirmed a release of crude oil along a remote section of the Rainbow pipeline, in the Evi area, located in Northern Sunrise County approximately 100km northeast of Peace River, AB.

We initiated our emergency response procedures. Valves in the pipeline were closed, isolating the damaged area of the pipeline. Southbound flows from Nipisi remained in service.

Environmental assessment staff, spill response specialists, and monitoring equipment were mobilized immediately. Our crews contained the release, and initiated clean-up efforts. Plains contacted appropriate regulatory agencies, as well as local municipal government officials.

Additional information available in the media releases.


Q:  What is the Rainbow Pipeline System?

A:  Plains Midstream Canada is the 100% owner and operator of the Rainbow system, which consists of a 480-mile, 20-inch to 24-inch mainline crude oil pipeline extending from the Norman Wells Pipeline located in Zama, Alberta to Edmonton, Alberta and 114 miles of gathering pipelines. The system has a throughput capacity of approximately 220,000 barrels per day and transported approximately 187,000 barrels per day during 2010.


Q:  What was the cause of the release?

A:  The third-party engineering report and Plains’ comprehensive analysis concludes that the cause of the pipeline failure was a singular event – an instantaneous failure caused by a unique combination of the three coincident factors: the presence of a full encirclement repair sleeve; an initiating circumferential crack on the weld; and an unusually large external force acting on the crack.


Q:  What has been done to clean up this release?

A:  We brought in specially trained spill response specialists, environmental experts, and clean-up professionals to support the comprehensive clean-up efforts.

We removed all recoverable free oil, and disposed of oil-contaminated soil at approved waste facilities.


Q:  How long will it take to complete the clean up?

A:  The clean-up and soil remediation phase was completed by early December 2011. We have made substantial progress on reclamation activities and are committed to completing a comprehensive clean-up of the site that meets all applicable environmental standards. Plains will continue to monitor the site into the future.


Q:  Who is in charge of the cleanup?

A:  Plains Midstream Canada is the responsible party for the clean-up. Several agencies including Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) and the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) are also involved.


Q:  How much oil has been recovered?

A:  Within three months of the release, all recoverable free oil was removed from the release site. Since then, remaining oil volumes in the soil were removed from the site and disposed of in approved waste disposal facilities.


Q:  How would Plains Midstream ensure that this kind of incident would not happen in the future?

A:  Our integrity management program meets or exceeds regulatory requirements. The plan combines a number of ongoing maintenance, testing and inspection activities that verify the integrity of the pipeline both externally and internally. We have committed to and completed an expedited schedule to excavate and inspect all sections of the pipeline containing weld-on sleeves.


Q:  Who can I contact if I have any concerns about clean-up operations?

A:  During weekday office hours, please contact the Rainbow Pipeline incident response line at 1-866-754-7422 or email the Rainbow Incident response team at rainbow.incident@plainsmidstream.com. We will work to ensure your concern is addressed promptly.