Environment groups wait for charges in year-old Saskatchewan oil spill

Click to play video: 'A year after the Husky oil spill on the North Saskatchewan River, many are still waiting for answers' A year after the Husky oil spill on the North Saskatchewan River, many are still waiting for answers
WATCH: It's been nearly one year after one of Husky Energy’s pipeline leaked 225,000 litres of blended crude oil into the North Saskatchewan River, leaving three cities without their usual water source. As Ryan Kessler explains, many are still waiting for answers. – Jul 19, 2017

A year after a major oil spill along the North Saskatchewan River fouled the water source for three Saskatchewan cities, an environmentalist says the company involved should get more than just “a slap on the wrist.”

Peter Prebble with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society said he hopes Husky Energy will be held to account after one of its pipelines leaked 225,000 litres of heavy oil mixed with diluent onto the riverbank near Maidstone, Sask.

Story continues below advertisement

About 40 per cent of the spill reached the river.

The oil plume flowed hundreds of kilometres downstream and forced the cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort to shut off their water intakes for almost two months.

FULL COVERAGE: North Saskatchewan River Husky oil spill

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice isn’t commenting. It is still reviewing Husky’s response to alarms before the spill to decide whether charges should be laid.

“If it was just a matter of deciding on a fine, then I would think it wouldn’t be all that complicated at this point in time,” Prebble said.

“If the department is actually working on a larger settlement that involves upgrades to the safety of the oil pipeline system that Husky operates in the province, then that’s something that could take more time,” he said.

“If we don’t see that, I’ll be really concerned because Husky is a big company and the fine could just end up being a slap on the wrist.”

READ MORE: Sask. Environmental Society seeks public inquiry into Husky oil spill

Husky (TSX:HSE) could face fines of up to $1 million a day under the Environmental Protection Act and $50,000 a day under the Pipelines Act in Saskatchewan.

Story continues below advertisement

There could also be federal charges under the Fisheries Act, said Dale Marshall, national program manager with the group Environmental Defence.

“It remains to be seen whether fines will be levied or not,” said Marshall, noting he would be surprised if they weren’t.

Marshall said it often takes more than a year for charges. He suggested they should be laid more quickly “in the interest of accountability and to send a clear message to other pipeline operators and oil companies that these matters are taken seriously and will be dealt with quickly.”

READ MORE: Husky report finds ground movement caused spill in North Saskatchewan

Marshall noted it took a couple of years before charges were laid in spills in Alberta.

Earlier this month, the Alberta Energy Regulator laid five charges against Nexen Energy (TSX:NXY) for a pipeline spill two years ago that was one of the largest in provincial history.

In June 2014, Plains Midstream Canada was fined $1.3 million after pleading guilty to environmental charges related to two spills: one in April 2011 and the other in June 2012.

READ MORE: Crude Awakening: 37 years of oil spills in Alberta

In Saskatchewan, the statute of limitations for charges under The Environmental Management and Protection Act is three years. Marshall couldn’t say why it takes so long.

Story continues below advertisement

“There’s almost no doubt that if charges are laid, they will be determined through some sort of negotiation with the oil industry. I think that’s almost a given. They’ll have certain charges that will be laid in exchange for a guilty verdict.”

Part of the concern in the Husky spill is over how it was reported.

The government was first told by a member of the public who spotted oil on the river – not Husky. Government investigators later determined that the leak began July 20, the day before the spill was discovered.

READ MORE: System issued alarm for hours prior to Husky oil spill: report

They found that the pipeline’s alarms were warning of potential problems and continued until the line was shut down for scheduled maintenance at 7:15 a.m. on July 21.

Husky Energy has said pipeline monitoring indicated pressure anomalies at 8 p.m. on July 20 and the company started a shutdown at 6 a.m.

Husky’s own investigation determined that the pipeline buckled because of ground movement. The company has said it accepts full responsibility and is using what it learned to improve operations.

Prebble said Husky should be required to install the latest spill detection technology, have automatic pipeline shutoff valves and install heavier walled pipes at river crossings.

Story continues below advertisement

“Those kind of measures are going to be important requirements.”

Sponsored content