Husky's oil pipeline broke due to ground movement, report says

Ground movement, described as geotechnical activity in a report released Thursday, was the reason a section of Husky Energy pipeline ruptured in July, spewing oil into the North Saskatchewan River and imperiling water sources for thousands of residents in communities downstream of the leak.

Company calls break a sudden, 1-time event

A report for Husky Energy included images of the damaged section of pipleline. (Husky Energy)

Ground movement, described as geotechnical activity in a report released Thursday, was the reason a section of Husky Energy pipeline ruptured, spewing oil into the North Saskatchewan River and imperilling water sources for thousands of residents in communities downstream of the leak.

In the report, the company said they detected the leak on the morning of July 21.

They noted it took place about 160 metres from the river and that 225,000 litres of oil was released, of which about 40 per cent entered the river.

According to the company, all but 15,000 litres of product were retrieved in its cleanup effort.

"The break was a sudden, one-time event in a section of the pipe that had buckled due to the force of ground movement," the report said.

The pipeline was installed in 1997 and an assessment prepared for Husky concluded that the area was inactive, the report said.

The oil, described as a mixture of heavy oil and a petroleum product to make it move smoothly through a pipeline, entered the North Saskatchewan River at a spot about 50 kilometres northeast of Lloydminster, Sask., where Husky Energy has substantial operations.

The course of the North Saskatchewan River highlighted from Maidstone to east of Prince Albert (and beyond where it merges with the South Saskatchewan River to become the Saskatchewan River). A leak from a Husky Energy pipeline near Maidstone led to some 200,000 litres of heavy oil entering the river in July. (CBC)

As the material dispersed and moved downstream, communities that rely on the river scrambled to disconnect from river intakes and set up alternate supplies of fresh water.

The city of Prince Albert was forced to rely on collected rainwater and then an improvised line connecting to other nearby rivers.

In the aftermath of the leak, questions arose about the company's response to the initial break.

The report said Husky had been doing some work on its pipeline system, including its leak detection system, just before the leak was noticed.

"Under such circumstances it is common for the leak detection system to register anomalies," the report said. "The investigation has concluded that during the event the operators responded appropriately to the data being observed and took proper steps to investigate."

The company said it was making some changes, in light of what it found, including:

  • Ensuring that geotechnical risks are addressed and re-assessed over the lifetime of a pipeline.
  • A review of leak detection processes and procedures.

Saskatchewan's Energy and Resources Minister Dustin Duncan said officials had only just received Husky's report, which included two technical assessments by third-party consultants, and would be taking some time to go through the material.

He noted the information released Thursday will be considered as his own officials prepare a report, adding the ministry's investigation continues.

Duncan said Husky's report, linking the pipeline break to ground movement, is "consistent with our findings to date."

The ministry's report should be done sometime in early 2017.

Duncan said the province has been keeping track of costs associated with the leak and Husky will be receiving a bill.

"Once we have the final report completed by the ministry, I think we'll be in a better position to speak to what may be some of the consequences to Husky for this, aside from what they've already paid out," he said.

In a statement, the NDP opposition said the provincial government should play a more prominent role in the oversight of pipelines.

"We are reaffirming our call to move away from having companies police themselves when it comes to pipeline inspections," Cathy Sproule, the NDP's environment critic, said in the statement. "The [Husky] spill showed how devastating an incident like that can be to the water that many families drink and use in everyday life, but it also showed what little work is being done by the Sask. Party government to make pipeline safety a priority."

According to the NDP, Saskatchewan officials "only conducted 78 pipeline inspections last year, while the government of Alberta conducted more than 2,000."