Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall calls Husky oil spill 'terrible situation'

Premier Brad Wall spoke to reporters in Regina for the first time since a pipeline leak spilled 250,000 litres of oil and solvent into the North Saskatchewan River, imperilling the drinking water of a number of cities and towns.

Premier says oil company will bear costs of cleanup after 250,000-litre spill

Premier Brad Wall said his No. 1 priority is the emergency reponse to the oil spill and ensuring people have enough drinking water. (CBC)

The pipeline leak that spilled 250,000 litres of oil and solvent into the North Saskatchewan River, imperilling the drinking water of a number of communities, "is a terrible situation," Premier Brad Wall said in addressing the media in Regina for the first time since the incident.

Wall said his top priority is the emergency response and ensuring people have access to drinking water following the spill a week ago involving Husky Energy.

"This is not an optimal situation — it's a terrible situation," Wall said Wednesday morning at the Legislative Building.

Wall had said he planned to visit areas affected by the spill on Thursday. However, the visit was cancelled later in the day at the request of mayors in Prince Albert and North Battleford, the government said.

Wall added he's concerned about the environmental impact of the spill, which sent a plume of oil and chemicals down the river toward Prince Albert and other communities.

"You bet we'll need to get a handle on what the ecological impact is on that river." 

What the government wants to see is the "complete restoration and rehabilitation" of the habitat and ecology of the river, he said.

Husky Energy has said it will pay the financial costs of the spill, and the province accepts that, he said.

Don't just quote me about pipelines, Wall tells media

The spill near Maidstone put a quarter of a million litres of oil and solvent into the river on July 20 and 21. It has thrown a number of communities into crisis mode, threatening water supplies.

Wall spoke to the media about the spill while he was at a premiers conference in Whitehorse last week, but Wednesday marked the first time he spoke at length about it at home.

In recent years, Wall has emerged as an outspoken proponent of oil and gas pipelines in Canada, saying they generate jobs and are safe.

However, he told reporters Wednesday he's reluctant to deal with that topic right now, out of concern the media will emphasize only that aspect of his remarks.

No 'egregious error' in Husky response, Wall says

Asked if he was "satisfied" with Husky's response, Wall said that's not the word he would use, but so far, he hasn't seen any evidence that it has been mishandled.

"I can't put my finger on some egregious error or misjudgment that I would say they made or that officials are telling me they made," he said.

As communities struggle to arrange potable water supplies, Wall said he's urging the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency to let communities know, as best they can, how long people will have to wait for full services to be restored.

"The government will be there," he said.

NDP criticizes Wall, cabinet for delay in responding

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan interim NDP Leader Trent Wotherspoon harshly criticized Wall and his cabinet ministers Wednesday for the way they handled the crisis, particularly in the early hours.

"We have to remember, this is a premier who races his way to a microphone if a KFC buffet is possibly put at risk, and he sits silent when we have a provincial disaster of an oil spill of this magnitude for days upon days as communities are impacted and our environment is being contaminated," Wotherspoon said.

"It is totally unacceptable."

Furthermore, he said, it's "more than troubling" that people in Prince Albert and other communities learned about the contamination of their water through the media or Facebook, rather than from their provincial government.

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