HUSKY ENERGY OIL SPILL INTO NORTH SASKATCHEWAN RIVER
PART ONE: ACTION TAKEN AND GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT
By Jessica Lemieux
An oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River on the evening of Wednesday, July 20th, 2016, near Maidstone, Saskatchewan, has affected approximately 70,000 people. A leak in a Husky Energy pipeline released an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 litres of crude oil into the North Saskatchewan River. Although the leak occurred on Wednesday night, the line was not shut off until Thursday morning, thus, allowing for a significant amount of oil to seep out.
According to Wes Plant, Senior Environmental Coordinator for Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), nine booms have been deployed in the most effective areas of the North Saskatchewan River to try and contain the surface oil. There is currently no official plan to recapture the oil that has sunk below the surface, however.
Sam Ferris, Executive Director for Environmental and Municipal Management Services Division at the Water Security Agency out of Regina, said approximately 45,000 people in the Prince Albert area have been affected, 17,000 in the North Battleford area as well as 7,000 in the Melfort region.
Ferris said, “The North Battleford surface water plant was shut down the early morning hours on Saturday [July 23rd]. Water conservation remains essential and work to arrange an alternate source water supply continues. The city is looking at four options for an alternate water supply including: obtaining water through a pipeline from the town of North Battleford; installing a pipeline from the Battle River to provide source water for the currently idle surface water treatment plant that the city runs; adding oil to supplement the raw water supply for the city of North Battleford’s ground water treatment plant, which is currently providing all the water for the city; as well as a technology-based pre-treatment system, which would treat any petroleum contaminated water before that water extended to their surface water treatment plant.”
When asked about the specifics of the fourth option - a technology-based pre-treatment system - Ferris replied, “I understand that there are components that include carbon filtration which will actually contract organics including oil. This type of technology is well understood and used in a lot of communities in the province to provide high quality drinking water that removes the tastes and odours and the like. I’m just not certain, at this time, what the other aspects are. Treating raw water, contaminated with petroleum, for drinking water purposes is unusual. So, what we’re talking about here is kind of a mix of technologies to be able to provide this specialized service. But we’re going to do our best to come to an understanding of how this system works and try to get the approvals in place so this system can be used. It’s a pre-treatment system so it goes up in front of the surface water treatment plant.”
He continued, “As for the city of Prince Albert’s water treatment plant, it was shut down early on Monday [July 25th] morning, the city is currently reliant on reserve supply. However, drinking water is being produced from raw water that is being sourced from the city’s storm water retention logs. This started Tuesday [July 26th] evening. Work continues to secure our raw water pipeline base supply from the South Saskatchewan River. This is expected to be completed Friday.”
On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 29th, Ferris discussed how a precautionary drinking water advisory had just been issued for the Prince Albert rural water utility, as the line had de-pressurized.
Meanwhile, local rural Prince Albert residents discussed already having had their water shut off for a couple days.
According to Cori Sarginson, Assistant Administrator for the Regional Municipality of Buckland, residents’ water was shut off without any notice being given.
Sarginson said, “No one was notified that the water was going to be shut off. We notified residents that water needed to be conserved, which is what we thought. We thought that we would be treated the same as the city was, that we would just have to conserve, like everyone else. But they decided to just shut us off because we’re only third party users.”
Tammy K., a homeowner just outside the Hamlet of MacDowall, also gave some insight into what her experience has been like.
“It was pretty terrible for us. I think the city did right by its tax payers, but as for the other customers in the surrounding areas, they did a poor job. We have absolutely no water. Right now we have gone out and purchased a $400 tank to put on the back of our truck so we can drive 45 minutes to go fill it with water. In the past four days, we bought nine huge water jugs that we’ve been using for drinking and showering really quickly.”
When Ferris was asked, specifically, what was being done for the affected residents in rural Prince Albert, he said, “We’re still working on alternative supplies for those folks.”
“As for the Melfort regional pipeline system, as of 6am on Tuesday [July 26th] morning, the tank was turned off and the precautionary drinking water advisory is currently in effect, due to the need to optimize the treatment process. Efforts to optimize water treatment, based on the pre-existing surface water reservoir, are under way and are progressing well as of this morning [July 27th].”
“Finally, I believe that a formal advisory has been issued by the Water Security Agency and Saskatchewan Health, advising members of the public to refrain from any contact and recreational activities, for those areas of the North Sask[atchewan] River that are currently affected by the oil spill, or the oil sheen.”
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Catherine McKenna, was contacted in regards to the recent oil spill. A spokesperson for ECCC was able to provide some information regarding the department’s official stance.
“Environment and Climate Change Canada’s environmental emergencies experts have been onsite working very closely with the Province of Saskatchewan for a number of days to provide scientific support that informs the on-going response efforts. We are committed to working with partners to reduce environmental impacts. The current priority is focussed on the clean-up activities.”
“Husky is bringing in experts to develop an environmental impact assessment and monitoring plan to look at the long term impacts. In the short term, we can confirm that there have been impacts to shoreline, wildlife and fish in the area.”
When asked how many animals were currently being cared for, Husky Energy replied that, as of Wednesday, July 27th, there were 5 animals presently being treated, including one beaver, two birds and two snakes.
According to ECCC, the Federal Government is taking steps to investigate the causes of this oil spill, as well as what can be done for the prevention of future spills.
“Our enforcement officers have opened an investigation into the incident to determine whether there may have been a contravention of federal environmental and wildlife legislation?. As this is a matter under investigation, I cannot provide any further comments.”
Legislation from The Fisheries Act contains pollution prevention provisions that prohibit unauthorized deposits of deleterious substances into water frequented by fish.
Section 36 (3) says:
Deposit of deleterious substance prohibited
(3) Subject to subsection (4), no person shall deposit or permit the deposit of a deleterious substance of any type in water frequented by fish or in any place under any conditions where the deleterious substance or any other deleterious substance that results from the deposit of the deleterious substance may enter any such water.
Section 36 (4) says:
Deposits authorized by regulation
(4) No person contravenes subsection (3) by depositing or permitting the deposit in any water or place of
- (a) waste or pollutant of a type, in a quantity and under conditions authorized by regulations applicable to that water or place made by the Governor in Council under any Act other than this Act;
- (b) a deleterious substance of a class and under conditions — which may include conditions with respect to quantity or concentration — authorized under regulations made under subsection (5) applicable to that water or place or to any work or undertaking or class of works or undertakings; or
- (c) a deleterious substance the deposit of which is authorized by regulations made under subsection (5.2) and that is deposited in accordance with those regulations.
Regulations from The Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, provide protection for migratory birds, their nests and eggs anywhere they are found in Canada, regardless of land ownership, and including surrounding ocean waters. The Act specifically prohibits the dumping of substances harmful to migratory birds in areas or waters that they frequent.
According to Public Safety Canada, when an emergency escalates beyond the capabilities of workers at the local, provincial or territorial level, help is then requested from a federal level. The National Emergency Response System (NERS) was developed by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) Response Working Group and was approved by FPT Ministers in January 2011, in order to facilitate cross-jurisdictional responses.
In a statement from Public Safety Canada on Thursday, July 29th, the department said:
“Public Safety Canada is responsible for the Federal Emergency Response Plan, an all-hazards approach to emergencies which sets out processes and mechanisms to harmonize federal emergency response efforts with those of the provinces/territorial governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector during an emergency. It ensures that a Government of Canada response to any emergency is rapid and effective.”
“In this case, Public Safety Canada’s help has not been requested as of yet. Saskatchewan’s Ministry of the Environment and Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) continue to work with local authorities to coordinate the response to this incident. Environment and Climate Change Canada is the lead federal department providing assistance to the province. As such, we would suggest you contact these organizations to know what has been done so far.”
“The Minister of Public Safety is aware of and concerned about the recent oil spill near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. The Government Operations Centre continues to monitor and report on the situation.”
“Minister Goodale has been in touch on this matter with the Office of the Premier. The management of this situation is being handled by the Government of Saskatchewan. The federal government is standing by to offer any additional assistance should Saskatchewan require it. Minister Goodale continues to work with his Cabinet colleagues the ministers of Environment, Natural Resources and Transport to monitor the situation and ensure any request for federal assistance is promptly answered.”
Part two will examine what Husky Energy is doing to remediate this issue, as well as an analysis into the issue of oil spills, in general, including information regarding various transport methods.