Saskatchewan oil spill has Manitoba activist worried about Energy East

A pipeline oil spill in Saskatchewan has a Manitoba activist worried about a proposed pipeline in this province.

'It's really hitting home,' Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition activist says

Crews work to clean up an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan river near Maidstone, Sask., on Friday July 22, 2016. Husky Energy said between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of crude oil and other material leaked into the river from its pipeline. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

A pipeline oil spill in Saskatchewan has a Manitoba activist worried about a proposed pipeline in this province.

"It's really sad. My family actually has connections to North Battleford," said Alex Paterson, a campaigner with the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition.

"Usually my parents aren't on side with me on these things, but they are actually all up in arms as well."

Last week 200,000 litres of heavy oil mixed with a thinning chemical leaked into the North Saskatchewan River near Lloydminster, Sask. Paterson said it's a lesson he doesn't want to see learned with the Energy East pipeline.

The Energy East proposal would repurpose a 40-year-old natural gas pipeline that runs past Shoal Lake at the Manitoba-Ontario border. Shoal Lake is the source of Winnipeg's drinking water and Paterson said he doesn't want to see a similar situation to the Saskatchewan spill happen here.

"It's really hitting home," Paterson said.

TransCanada has proposed a 4,600-kilometre pipeline from Alberta to Quebec and New Brunswick that would transport about 1.1 million barrels of crude daily. The project would see the pipeline traverse two metres below the Shoal Lake aqueduct, where Manitoba drinking water is taken.

It also will cross just south of the Brady Road Resource Management Facility, the city landfill in south Winnipeg.

TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline would ship crude from Alberta to New Brunswick. (Canadian Press)
It is important the city bring in an independent consultant to do an environmental assessment of the proposed pipeline, especially after the Saskatchewan leak, Paterson said.

"We are risking the drinking water of 600,000 people in Winnipeg for an industry that has to be on the decline rather than the ratchet up," Paterson said.

Manitoba Sustainable Development issued a bulletin on Tuesday about the Saskatchewan spill, saying there is "no risk to the water supply of any Manitoba community at this time."

However, officials said they are in talks with the Town of The Pas, which uses the Saskatchewan River as a source of drinking water, to discuss alternatives if required.

TransCanada spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis said the company's goal is zero incidents.

"We believe that no incident is acceptable and all spills can be avoided. While these incidents are rare, as an industry we learn from each of them and from each other to better prevent them from occurring again," he said in an emailed statement. 

"We will watch carefully as more information is provided about the cause of this incident which right now is unknown."

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said the leak in Saskatchewan is "obviously really concerning."

Bowman said the city has received intervenor status to discuss the controversial pipeline project with the National Energy Board and the security of Winnipeg's drinking water is a top issue.

Intervenors in the hearing can present evidence, ask questions or request additional information from the company.

Intervenors will be allowed to make as many as three presentations to the hearing panel, with the first sessions taking place from August to December 2016. A total of 337 applicants have been granted intervenors status, the NEB has stated.