A massive late July oil spill from a Husky Energy pipeline leaked oil into the North Saskatchewan River and contaminated the drinking water supply of an estimated 70,000 people.
Such disruptive events are rare in the province, but this spill is not the largest oil pipeline spill in recent history. According to publicly-available data from the Saskatchewan government, that honour belongs to a 2006 Nexen spill which dumped about 1.65 million litres of oil north of Fusilier.
There are about 20 spills of oil from pipelines per year in Saskatchewan on average. This one stands out for its environmental impact and the effect it’s having on the public.
The Husky oil spill
According to the latest information from Husky, the spill was discovered at around 10 a.m. on July 21. The company had originally claimed that the leak was discovered on the evening of July 20.
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About 200,000 – 250,000 litres of crude oil blended with diluent (a chemical added to heavy oil to make it flow more easily) leaked from a pipeline into the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone, Saskatchewan. The oil has since been travelling downriver.
The town of North Battleford (population 13,888 according to the 2011 census) shut down its water intake from the river the day after the spill was reported. Since then, the city has relied on a different water treatment plant, which draws from groundwater, and put in place some water conservation measures.
On July 25, the city of Prince Albert (pop. 35,129) also stopped taking drinking water from the river. It’s currently asking its residents to conserve water and is relying on backup supplies of drinking water. They’re also hoping to construct a pipeline to another river, as an alternative water source.
Other municipalities have also issued drinking water advisories, and in some cases, since rescinded them. All in all, Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency estimated on Monday that about 70,000 people were affected and that precautionary measures could be in place for weeks or even months.
A brief look at Saskatchewan oil spills
This Husky oil spill is tied for the eleventh-biggest oil pipeline spill in Saskatchewan since 1990, according to government records.
Over the last 10 years, there have been about 20 spills of oil from pipelines on average. But that number increases immensely if you include all sources: about 453 spills per year between 2006 and 2015. This includes spills from wells, oil facilities and flowlines.
The average pipeline spill those years dumped about 30,700 litres of oil. However the average is skewed by a few big incidents – like that massive Nexen spill in 2006. More than half of spills are 1000 litres or less.
Husky is also responsible for more spills in Saskatchewan than any other company. They had recorded 2691 incidents from 1989 to the present, according to the government data.
With files from the Canadian Press