Ministry of Environment, not Economy, should handle pipeline inspection, says environmentalist

A member of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society and a professor of environmental studies at the University of Regina joined CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition on Tuesday afternoon to discuss last week's oil spill on the Ocean Man First Nation.

Approximately 200,000 litres of oil was spilled last week in southern Sask.

Pipe that will be used in a pipeline is loaded onto a truck. The Saskatchewan Environmental Society's Peter Prebble wants the Ministry of Environment to deal with pipeline inspection, rather than the Ministry of the Economy. (CBC News)

Spills and leaks are part of everyday operations in the oil industry, says a University of Regina professor.

Emily Eaton is a professor of geography and environmental studies and as part of her work, she studies the region of southern Saskatchewan. So she says she was not surprised when she heard of the leak on reserve land owned by the Ocean Man First Nation.

"What surprised me about is we don't know when it started or who's responsible for it, that a company lost track of 200,000 litres of oil," she said.

Approximately 200,000 litres of oil spilled last week on Ocean Man land, covering about a 20-metre radius. The Ministry of Environment said it became aware of the spill last Friday.

Time to take pipeline safety seriously

Peter Prebble, a member of the board of directors for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, said the spill detection system which was in place was inadequate. 

"It's really time to take responsibility for pipeline inspection away from the Ministry of [the] Economy and put it in the hands of the Ministry of Environment where it belongs," Prebble said.

Prebble said if there had been adequate systems in place, the company responsible would be known.

It's currently not certain which company owns the pipeline involved in the spill. Cleanup of the spill is expected to be completed by Wednesday, at which point the source of the leak should be identified.

"This really is time now for the provincial government to take all pipeline safety seriously," Prebble said.

He called for upgraded regulations, automatic shut-off valves and a provincial leak detection system. He also wants the company responsible to upgrade its detection systems.

Prebble said he thinks the pipelines there might not have been inspected for two or more years.

Geography and environmental studies professor Emily Eaton said there are more than 118,000 kilometres of small pipelines across Saskatchewan. (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)

Small pipelines basically unregulated, Eaton says

Eaton said farmers and ranchers often find leaks and spills on their land, similar to what happened on the Ocean Man First Nation when a band member sought out an odour he recognized from his time working in the oil industry. She said there are no requirements mandating companies to conduct frequent visual inspections of their pipelines.

"I think the untold story here is these systems do often exist on inter-provincial pipelines and main pipeline systems here but they don't exist on the provincial pipelines," Eaton said.

She added that there are more than 118,000 kilometres of small pipelines in Saskatchewan, which are basically unregulated. 

"There's no public input or environmental assessment done on them. There's no consent garnered from those who own or use the land they're on, and they're subject to almost no inspection or monitoring." 

Eaton hammered the provincial government, saying the Saskatchewan Party has shown it can't be trusted to take care of the interests of the public and is beholden to the oil industry, in regard to implementing safeguards against future oil spills.

"I'm not too optimistic that [Brad Wall will] willingly implement the kinds of things that [Prebble] is talking about," Eaton said.

Prebble said public pressure is needed to ensure safeguards and regulations are in place for the future.

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition.