Husky oil spill began when pumping resumed through pipeline expansion project

The oil spill that has jeopardized the water source of thousands of Saskatchewan people began shortly after Husky Energy restarted the flow of oil through a pipeline expansion project it’s building in the area.

No environmental impact assessment required for new pipeline going under N. Sask. River

A series of booms were deployed this summer, to handle Husky's broken pipeline which leaked more than 200,000 litres of oil diluent into the North Saskatchewan River. The company called the break a "sudden, one-time event" caused in part by heavy rain along the south riverbank. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The oil spill that has jeopardized the water source for thousands of Saskatchewan people began shortly after Husky Energy restarted the flow of oil through a pipeline expansion project it's building in the area.

Husky says it first detected pipeline problems at 8 p.m. CST on Wednesday, July 20, just as it restarted the flow of oil as part of its Saskatchewan Gathering System expansion project.

On the morning of Thursday, July 21 the provincial government was notified that more than 200,000 litres of oil had spilled from a Husky pipeline on the edge of the North Saskatchewan River.

In December 2014, Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment concluded its review of the project by determining the 23 kilometres of new pipeline did not need an environmental impact assessment, despite the fact that the pipe would run underneath the North Saskatchewan River.

Company detected 'pressure anomalies'

In an email, the company explained that on Wednesday evening "the pipeline monitoring system indicated pressure anomalies as several segments of the pipeline system were being returned to service." The company would only respond to CBC's questions by email.

It explained "the pipeline was shut down in conjunction with work we are doing to expand our Saskatchewan Gathering System."

The pipeline was shut down in conjunction with work we are doing to expand our Saskatchewan Gathering System.- Husky Energy

The company says the section of pipeline that failed was installed in 1997 and is not part of the new construction. A spokesperson contacted by CBC didn't know how far the failed pipeline is from the newly constructed line.

According to Ministry of Environment documents, the 23 km of pipeline are being built near where the spill occurred in the RMs of Eldon, Paynton and Turtle River.

The Ministry says the system is being expanded because "the existing pipelines are not capable of handling an anticipated increase in volumes of oil from Husky's nearby operations."

No Environmental Impact Assessment for new pipeline 

In a letter to Husky on Dec. 16, 2014 the Ministry of Environment informed the company that the project "is not a 'development' that is required to undergo an Environmental Impact Assessment."
Emily Eaton, an economic geographer at the University of Regina who studies the oil industry, said the pace of development in Saskatchewan and the lack of industry oversight comes at a cost. (CBC)

That's despite the fact that "the project will include a horizontal directional drill to install the pipeline under the North Saskatchewan River, Birling Creek and any unfrozen, native wetlands."

Emily Eaton, a University of Regina geography professor who has been studying the impacts of oil development on Saskatchewan communities, says it's surprising that drilling under a major water source wouldn't trigger an Environmental Impact Assessment.

"It doesn't seem to be something that's particularly risky even though it should be," Eaton said. "So they're counting on it not spilling I guess. Which, they should know better because the oil industry is spilling every day in the province."

'Widespread public concern is not anticipated'

The ministry concluded that "effects on unique, rare or endangered features of the environment are not anticipated."

It noted that "the pipeline route was selected to: parallel existing disturbance and infrastructure; be located primarily on cultivated land; and to avoid wetlands and watercourses. Unique or sensitive habitat types were avoided where possible during route selection."

It found the 23 km of pipeline would not impact rare plants or wildlife in the area and it wouldn't cause public controversy.

Effects on unique, rare or endangered features of the environment are not anticipated.- Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment

"The project will likely cause minor environmental change during the construction phase; however, residual effects will not be significant and therefore widespread public concern is not anticipated."

In a letter to Husky, the ministry reminded the company that it must comply with all federal, provincial and municipal regulations and "must comply with all reasonable follow up ministerial requests to monitor compliance."

Late last week, after the spill occurred, Husky updated its investors on the progress of the Saskatchewan Gathering System in its second quarter update.

"Construction continued on the Saskatchewan Gathering System expansion, with work expected to be completed in the third quarter."

A Husky spokesperson said the company is still on track to complete the project despite the spill.

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