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‘Significant amount of time’ before Alberta highway can reopen after ‘oilfield material’ spill

Four days after the RCMP announced highway disruptions in central Alberta caused by an “oilfield material” spill, cleanup efforts are ongoing and police say it is not clear yet when all highways will fully reopen.

An RCMP spokesperson told Global News on Monday that in the case of Highway 20 near Breton, Alta., it would be a “significant amount of time before the roads open up.”

The highway remains closed in both directions at the site of the spill.

The highways affected by the spill were Highway 20 between Township Road 470 and Highway 39, as well as Highway 39 from Highway 20 to Highway 770.

On Monday, the RCMP said Highway 39 is now open in one direction only at the scene of the spill. The RCMP said the road maintenance service company Emcon Alberta continues to be involved in cleanup efforts.

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The spill was announced Thursday night by the Thorsby RCMP detachment. At the time, Mounties and other personnel were “working to divert traffic on approximately 38 kilometres of affected highway.”

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The RCMP did not originally say exactly what the substance that spilled is, but said it is “non-toxic.” They later said the material that spilled is “VGO.” The acronym is often used to describe “vacuum gas oil” but as of Monday morning, there was no confirmation from the RCMP or the province that that is what the substance that spilled is.

In an email sent to Global News on Friday, the office of Environment and Protected Areas of Alberta Minister Rebecca Schulz said the ministry is “working with local officials and others to clean the spill and open the highways as soon as possible.”

“Alberta Environment and Protected Areas and others have responded and is working to support the clean-up,” the email said.

“At this time, no significant environmental impacts have been identified.”

Global News reached out to the ministry for an updated statement on Monday.

In a post on the Village of Breton’s Facebook page on Sunday night, officials asked that anyone who “drove through any segments of the spill” get their vehicle sprayed off.

“The more vehicles that are cleaned, the less the VGO will be tracked around,” officials said.

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“We do know crews are working on (Highway) 20 right by the village tonight.

“Thankfully the snow seems to be solidifying the VGO and preventing it from getting into the ground, even with the temperatures the last few days.”

Village officials noted they have confirmed the cleanup involves people walking through ditches and “hand-shovelling remnants of the VGO they are finding.”

They added that environmental firms have been hired to test the water along the ditches.

Village officials commented on the co-ordination involved with respect to the cleanup effort.

“(It) is very reassuring that they aren’t rushing to just be done with it.”

An RCMP spokesperson told Global News on Friday afternoon that the driver of the vehicle involved in the spill will be facing charges under the Traffic Safety Act as well as under the Commercial Vehicle Safety Regulation.

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