Natural recovery part of Husky oil spill response, expert says

A consultant for Husky Energy says the cleanup plan for a spill of oil into the North Saskatchewan River includes allowing nature to break down the material.

Consultant working on oil spill into North Saskatchewan River

Consultant Ed Owens is in Saskatchewan providing expert advice on how to deal with spill of oil into the North Saskatchewan River. (CBC)

A consultant for Husky Energy says the cleanup plan for a spill of oil into the North Saskatchewan River includes allowing nature to break down the material.

"Nature takes care of a lot of it," Ed Owens, an expert on oil spills who arrived in Saskatchewan Saturday, said. "Some of it will just degrade and weather naturally as a result of microbial bacterial action breaking down the oil."

Owens was brought to the province to provide expert advice on how to deal with an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 litres of heavy oil, mixed with another product called a diluent, that entered the river from a leaking Husky Energy Pipeline. The company reported the leak on July 21. An investigation is underway to determine why the rupture happened.

We're washing it off the river banks.- Ed Owens

Officials said that, as of Friday, some 106,000 litres of material had been recovered from the spill. A long plume of oil has travelled hundreds of kilometres down the river from the site of the spill, near Maidstone, Sask.

Communities that use the river as a source for water have been scrambling to set up alternate supplies. The North Saskatchewan joins with the South Saskatchewan River east of Prince Albert. From there, the water eventually makes its way to Manitoba.

Owens said crews, using a variety of apparatus, will remove as much oil as possible from the water and the banks of the river.

"We're in the first phase of containing and recovery of the oil," he said. "There's no mobile oil left on the water, so we're washing it off the river banks to collect and contain it."

Crews associated with Husky Energy were on the North Saskatchewan River in Prince Albert, Sask., Saturday taking water samples. (CBC)

In a briefing for media Saturday, provincial officials said about 70 boats were involved in different aspects of the cleanup, including a comprehensive survey of a section of water nearest to the spill to assess what effects the oil has had on the environment.

The material was described as very thick and viscous and some was seen sticking to plants along the shore. The province also noted 33 cases of dead wildlife linked to the spill.

Owens said part of their plan is to remove what they can and let nature handle some.

"We're going to recover the oil and physically take it away up to the point where nature can then take care of the recovery itself," he said. "We're really getting rid of the oil and then accelerating natural recovery."

Oil is floating

According to Owens, the product that leaked is a floating oil and there was no information indicating that any oil was on the river bed.

"None of the samples that have been collected and analysed so far show any oil in the river sediments on the bottom," he said.

Owens said further testing will be needed to determine how much more cleanup work is needed.

"Every spill is different," he said, adding that communities like Prince Albert, which are relatively far from the site of the initial spill, will have more natural action taking place to deal with the oil.

"We're couple hundred kilometres downstream from the source, so that's an advantage that allows natural breakdown to take place," he said.