Bet­ter mea­sures needed

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

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY JEN­NIFER GRA­HAM

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 says 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. 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.

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,” said Preb­ble. “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.

“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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.

“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.

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.

CP PHOTO/JA­SON FRAN­SON

Crews work to clean up an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan River near Maid­stone, Sask., on July 22, 2016. A year af­ter a ma­jor oil spill along the 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.”

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