Crews removed about 30,000 litres of fuel overnight from the Bassett Petroleum haul truck that's still more than half submerged in ice on Great Bear Lake about three kilometres from Deline, N.W.T. 

No fuel leaked from the truck, according to the N.W.T. Department of Transportation.

Deline chief Leonard Kenny

'It could have been a disaster, but it was avoided,' said Deline Chief Leonard Kenny. 'It was a job well done.' (Jean Polfus/SRRB)

"We're totally relieved," said Leonard Kenny, the chief of Deline.

"That was a very scary situation. It could have been a disaster, but it was avoided. It was a job well done."

Kevin McLeod, the N.W.T.'s director of highways, says the fuel was removed 10,000 litres at a time, from about 10 p.m. Monday to just after 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. The fuel in the truck's own gas tanks was also removed. 

"The high-risk issue is the fuel. The fuel's now been extracted," said McLeod.

"It is now a big, empty, steel tank attached to a truck encased in ice. There's no sense of rush. There's no need to do something in a hurry."

The truck is about three-fifths submerged in the lake. McLeod said ice under the truck, and trapped air in and around the vehicle, are keeping the truck afloat.

Detour opens

The tanker's fuel accounted for about three quarters of the truck's total weight, estimated McLeod. But he said crews will still build up the ice around the truck so that it can withstand the weight of a crane to pull the truck out of Great Bear Lake.

Deline, N.W.T., map

Deline, N.W.T., sits on Great Bear Lake north of Yellowknife. (CBC)

There's no exact timeline on when that will happen, though McLeod said his department does not intend to leave the truck there. The Deline ice crossing over Great Bear Lake typically closes in late March.

A detour road around the tanker was opened to light traffic — cars and pickup trucks — Tuesday morning.

Despite the interruption to Deline's annual resupply, the community's grocery stores are holding up, said Kenny.

"There's a few trucks that drove into town before this happened," he said. "All the shelves seemed to be stocked and everything's OK."

Kenny said the incident highlights the need for more monitoring of ice levels after the crossing is built.

"If we had a pilot truck or somebody that can stay here, and every time a truck is going to cross, somebody has to go across and make sure there are no new cracks in the ice — that kind of monitoring would be ideal," said Kenny.

Former Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya repeatedly advocated for a regional highway transportation office in the Sahtu region.

Kenny also has another idea.

"Maybe making the tankers carry less weight — not filling it right up and maybe delivering half just so that it doesn't go through the ice," he said.

Investigation ongoing

Norm Bassett, vice-president of Bassett Petroleum, which owns the truck, said, "We usually go under the legal [weight], just in case."

The weight limit on the Deline ice crossing was increased to 40,000 kilograms three days before the truck broke through.

McLeod declined to say how much the truck weighed, saying the investigation into the cause of the accident remains ongoing.

All large trucks are weighed at a station in Enterprise.

McLeod said about 30,000 litres of fuel was extracted but he didn't know if that came entirely from the large tank or also from the truck's gas tank.

Kenny said 32,000 litres of fuel was removed from the truck.

Bassett said once the truck is removed from the lake, it could be back in service within a week.

"They're pretty resilient," he said.