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Water Today Title December 15, 2017

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Oil Spills


By Jessica Lemieux

An oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River released an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 litres of crude oil into the North Saskatchewan River on the evening of Wednesday, July 20th, 2016, near Maidstone, Saskatchewan. The spill has affected over 70,000 residents throughout North Battleford, Prince Albert as well as in smaller rural communities. Husky Energy says the cause of the leak is still unknown and they are investigating the issue. There are currently eleven booms deployed along the river to alleviate the spread of oil.

Mel Duvall, a spokesperson for Husky Energy said, “As we move forward with our response, our priorities continue to be assisting all affected communities and advancing the clean-up. We realize this has impacted people, businesses and communities, and have established a toll-free line for claims. A team is standing by to help people through the process. We learn from every incident and use that information to improve, sharing findings with others. We will participate in a full and thorough investigation, working openly and transparently with the province, and will incorporate the lessons learned.”

He explained that Husky has established the 1-800 line for claims and is working very closely with affected communities, while assuring folks that they will take responsibility for this event. The depth of exactly what Husky will do for the affected residents is still unclear, however.

Duvall explained that Husky has engaged the services of a company called Owens Coastal Consultants, who are currently leading the clean-up process. “Owens has significant experience in this area, and its founder, Ed Owens is one of the foremost experts,” he said.

When asked how the North Saskatchewan River spill affected the Federal Government's stance on future potential pipelines, Natural Resources Canada (NRC) explained their stance in a statement.

“The Government takes pollution incidents and threats to the environment very seriously. The pipeline which leaked in Saskatchewan is provincially regulated and does not fall under federal authority; however, we are monitoring the situation closely and when incidents like this occur, we work with all levels of government. Environment and Climate Change Canada is actively assisting with the response to this spill.”

“Canada has a strong record of safe transportation of crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products on federally regulated pipelines. On average each year, 99.999 per cent of the oil transported on federally regulated pipelines moves safely, and we would have that expectation for any pipeline.”

“Canada continues to enhance its pipeline regulatory systems. The Pipeline Safety Act came into force on June 19, 2016, to further strengthen Canada’s federal pipeline safety system in the areas of prevention, preparedness and response, as well as liability and compensation. One of the key features of the new legislation is that companies will be held liable regardless of fault $1 billion for operators of major oil pipelines and be required to have the financial resources to respond to potential incidents. The Act and its supporting regulations will ensure Canada maintains the highest safety standards for current and future federally-regulated pipelines.”

“It is a major responsibility of the Government of Canada to move our resources to market sustainably, in a way that ensures that proposed projects, such as new pipelines, undergo credible and robust environmental and regulatory assessments based on science, facts, evidence and traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples.”

“Factors related to the environment and the public interest are taken into consideration before making any decision, as are implications of the project on public health, safety, the environment, and Aboriginal treaty rights. If a pipeline is approved, it is subject to ongoing regulation by the National Energy Board (NEB), which enforces the NEB Act, its Regulations, and project-specific operating conditions, in order to protect public health, safety and the environment, and ensure compliance with mitigation measures which reduce or eliminate impacts on First Nations. The NEB has various tools and penalties to compel companies in this regard, including revocation of a pipeline’s certificate (the pipeline’s license to operate).”

“The National Energy Board (NEB) regulates pipelines that cross provincial boundaries. Before any project for an inter-provincial pipeline can proceed it must be reviewed by the NEB and approved by the Government of Canada.”

However, when the National Energy Board (NEB) was asked about their role in this situation, they have no jurisdiction over this incident.

A spokesperson for the NEB said, “The incident that occurred in Saskatchewan is connected with a provincially regulated pipeline and the National Energy Board has no jurisdiction over this incident. That said, the NEB is monitoring the situation closely and has offered assistance to Environment & Climate Change Canada, which is coordinating the federal response. Canada has more than 760,000 kilometres of pipelines that transport oil and gas, but only about 10 percent of them cross provincial boundaries or the U.S. border and become federally regulated by the NEB.”

Canadian Crude Oil Transportation: Comparing the Safety of Pipelines and Railways, from December 2015, breaks down the advantages between both means of transporting oil.

It explains, “Pipelines also have made improvements in the safe handling of oil and related products. Between 2009 and 2013, 99.999 percent of crude oil and petroleum products transported via Canada’s federally regulated pipelines arrived without any release, and between 2011 and 2013, essentially all liquids released by these pipelines were recovered.”

“In addition to meeting regulations regarding safe construction and regular inspections, the pipeline industry continually invests in new technology to improve safety. One area of significant research is leak detection. Pipelines already use mechanical devices that detect deviations in pipe walls that might indicate corrosion or damage, and measure pipeline pressure and flow continuously.”

“New technology includes smart balls - electronic bowling-ball sized sensors that can be put into pipelines to detect tiny leaks and mark their location. As well, fiber optic cables laid alongside pipelines are being used to detect temperature changes that might indicate a leak and sounds associated with unauthorized excavation near pipelines. In summary, a more nuanced analysis lessens the need to debate the question of what is the “safest” mode for crude oil transport.”

“In addition, Canada has enacted regulation to implement an improved tank car design for crude oil tank cars. This could lead to further improvements in safety performance.”

“Both modes have excellent safety records and are taking steps to improve safety further. Both will need to add yet more capacity as Canadian crude oil production grows.”

The picture is not quite so rosy in Saskatchewan. An incident spreadsheet posted on the Ministry of Economy's website reveals that there have been 18,467 spills in the province since 1990, about 15 per cent of which are attributed to Husky. While the report lists all incidents big and small, including those that happened in facilities, wells, flowlines and pipelines, the staggering numbers speak for themselves.

According to Saskatchewan's Auditor General 2012 report, “The Ministry of Energy and Resources did not have effective processes to ensure full compliance with laws for pipeline construction and operation. The increasing use and age of pipelines makes compliance with the laws that much more important. The Ministry needs to consistently review pipeline applications. It also needs to assess pipeline construction, verify pressure tests, and review operator processes for maintaining pipeline integrity and safety. The Auditor also points out that current laws exempt the Ministry from regulating the construction of flowlines (the smaller and shorter pipelines that connect wellheads to storage facilities). Since these can pose the same type of environmental and safety risks as pipelines, the Auditor recommends that the Ministry consider seeking the responsibility to regulate flow lines.”

This week, Government officials have reportedly confirmed that the Petroleum and Natural Gas branch, which serves as the province’s main energy regulator, had its budget reduced due to “a re-organization.”

Specifically, this means that the Petroleum and Natural Gas Branch received $2.7 million less than it received in 2015-2016.

There is also, reportedly, now fewer than one inspector per 1,000 kilometres of pipeline.

Neither the Government, nor Husky Energy, have commented on whether or not the budget cut was a contributing factor to this specific incident.

Natural Resources Canada explained that on June 20, 2016, the Government launched a comprehensive review to deliver on its commitment to review and restore confidence in Canada’s environmental and regulatory processes. Canadians are invited to learn more and share their views at www.canada.ca/environmentalreviews.


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