Premier Wall celebrated Husky expansion in oil spill area on election eve
Province approved 4 Husky projects in the area without environmental impact assessments
Less than one week before the start of the 2016 election campaign, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall attended an event celebrating the opening of Husky Energy's new heavy oil thermal project.
The project, known as Edam East, is located near where the Husky spill occurred last week, in which more than 200,000 litres of oil poured onto the shore of the North Saskatchewan River, much of it ending up in the water.
However, the pipeline that ruptured was installed in 1997 and is not part of the new construction.
Edam East, which feeds up to 10,000 barrels of oil a day into the Saskatchewan Gathering System, was officially opened by Wall on March 1 of this year.
"Despite low oil prices, our province's energy sector continues to attract billions of dollars in new investment," Wall said.
"Edam East is another example of the quick ramp ups that we've come to expect from these developments which have operating costs amongst the lowest in the industry," said the company's CEO Asim Ghosh.
Wall made the announcement the same day that Quebec announced it would take legal action to stop the proposed Energy East pipeline, which Wall advocates.
"If there's a prima facie case for Energy East why slap an injunction against it except if it's about environmental politics" Wall said. "It probably is going to be a bit divisive unfortunately."
4 projects — 1,000s of barrels of oil — no environmental impact assessments
Edam East is one of at least four Husky projects in the Rural Municipalities of Turtle River, Paynton or Eldon that have been reviewed by Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment over the past three years.
In August 2013, the Ministry of Environment reviewed the Edam East project. Ministry documents say "the purpose of the project is to produce up to 10,000 barrels of oil/day."
The project includes a central processing facility, an oil pipeline, 13 water wells and a raw water pipeline.
The ministry says "the expansion will increase water allocation and pumping capacity to 18,000 m3/day" and it says the Water Security Agency believes that allocation "could be granted without negatively impacting groundwater resources. No impacts on shallow groundwater quantity or quality are expected."
And so it found "the project will not have a significant environmental impact."
The ministry came to similar conclusions with three other Husky projects in the same area,
- July 2014 the Ministry of Environment conducted a review of Husky's Edam West Gravity Drainage Project which "is expected to produce 3,500 barrels of oil per day." This project includes a central oil processing facility, a raw water supply wellfield, including 5 observation wells, 20 water source well sites, 16km of raw water supply pipelines and 2.9km oil pipeline. The project is expected to come online within days.
- December 2014 the ministry reviewed the Saskatchewan Gathering System Pipeline Expansion Project which involved the construction of 23 kilometres of pipeline. The pipeline was deemed necessary because "the existing pipelines are not capable of handling an anticipated increase in volumes of oil." Despite the fact that the pipelines will be run under the North Saskatchewan River, Birling Creek and wetlands, an environmental review was deemed to be unnecessary. The ministry found the pipeline ran along existing pipeline routes primarily on cultivated land, and avoided wetlands and watercourses. "Unique or sensitive habitat types were avoided where possible during route selection." The project is expected to be complete within months.
- December 2015 ministry staff reviewed Husky's Rush Lake Commercial project. It's proposed to be a steam assisted gravity drainage thermal oil recovery project. It's expected to produce 10,000 barrels of oil a day. The project includes a central processing facility and water and oil pipelines. The project has been approved but construction hasn't yet begun.
In each case ministry staff concluded an environmental impact assessment was unnecessary.
They also noted the projects are "subject to all other regulatory requirements."
Why no environmental impact assessments?
The ministry explained that environmental impact assessments were unnecessary for each of these projects because none of them were considered to be "developments" as defined by the Act, and only "developments" warrant an environmental impact review.
The Act says in order for a project to be a development it must be likely to:
- Have an effect on any unique, rare or endangered feature of the environment
- Substantially utilize any provincial resource and in so doing preempt the use, or potential use, of that resource for any other purpose
- Cause the emission of any pollutants or create by-products, residual or waste products which require handling and disposal in a manner that is not regulated by any other Act or regulation
- Cause widespread public concern because of potential environmental changes
- Involve a new technology that is concerned with resource utilization and that may induce significant environmental change
- Have a significant impact on the environment or necessitate a further development which is likely to have a significant impact on the environment
Ministry staff concluded that none of Husky's four projects met any of these criteria.