‘It’s not as bad as what people fear’: Local expert on North Saskatchewan River oil spill

WATCH ABOVE: It was just a matter of time before an oil spill like the Maidstone, SK one happened in Saskatchewan, according to a local expert. Meaghan Craig reports.

It was just a matter of time before an oil spill in Saskatchewan of this kind happened.

Dr. John Giesy, professor and Canada research chair in environmental toxicology at the University of Saskatchewan, says he has worked on oil spills all over the world.

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On Thursday, he weighed in on the situation unfolding on the North Saskatchewan River and says as far as oil spills go, there’s nothing all that unique about it.

“It’s not as good as we’d hoped because it’s a bad situation but it’s not as bad as what people fear,” Giesy said.

Slight reprieve from oil slick's fallout

According to Giesy, oil spills like these happen all the time and conditions will eventually improve.

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“Early on is the problem, the acute phase is difficult, hard to deal with – oil and water don’t mix,” he said.

“It’s hard to keep it in one place so it’s going to move around but the critical time is that first couple weeks.”

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What will likely happen next according to Giesy – is this.

“The ultimate place where it’s probably going to go is the delta.”

The problem is with a moving body of water the oil will get hung up in different places, downstream.

“To clean up those little patches is very, very difficult- it’s very time consuming, it’s very expensive and in the end you can’t get it all, you just can’t.”

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In some areas where there has been an oil spill, the evidence of there being one has been minimal and according to Giesy, it’s typically hidden under rocks, but the residual can still there be 30 to 40 years later.

A triage station has been set up in Maidstone to clean up wildfire impacted by an oil spill in Saskatchewan this week.

On Thursday, an environmental protection officer confirmed 19 animals died as result of the oil spill including birds, fish and mammals.

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“Which for oil spills – trust me that’s a small number. With bigger oil spills you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of birds can die,” Giesy said.

A total of 10 containment booms are in place right now in the water according to provincial officials and four communities have now declared local states of emergency including Prince Albert.

“Traditionally, a hydrocarbon spill will stay on the surface of the water,” said Jim Toye, city manager for Prince Albert.

“This one the oil has kinda cascaded all through the water column, right through the bottom of the river.”

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Exactly where the city’s intake is for water said Toye.

“If there are particles of hydrocarbonate particulars in there, that’s not good for the water treatment plant and could really have a huge impact on the safety and quality of our water.”

Forcing the city of PA to pump water from the South Saskatchewan River through an overland water pipeline that is anticipated to be ready by Friday.

“The water supply in this province is critical and it’s limited  and spills like this only exacerbates that problem.”

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According to Giesy, it’s for that exact reason that in the short-term and long-term, no one should take our water for granted.