Husky oil spill continues to affect cities' drinking water

North Battleford continues to rely on an alternate water source after Husky Energy's oil spill in July contaminated water in the North Saskatchewan River. Prince Albert is drawing river water again, but fears more oil could contaminate it.

Mayor of Prince Albert does not believe spill was a "sudden, one-time' event

A water reservoir, part of Prince Albert's water treatment system. The city scrambled to find new water sources after Husky Energy's pipeline upstream broke, leaking oil into the North Saskatchewan River. (CBC News)

It's still not business as usual for cities downstream of Husky Energy's oil spill. 

Officials with the City of North Battleford, one of three Saskatchewan communities affected by the summer spill, said they continue to pipe water in from the neighbouring town of Battleford.

As cold weather approaches, crews are now installing a filtering system to allow some water to be drawn from the North Saskatchewan River.

"Our citizens will not pay the bill, that's for darn sure," said David Gillan, North Battleford's director of finance.

One of Husky's pipelines broke in July after what the company calls a "sudden, one-time event" where a rain-soaked section of riverbank shifted.

Gillan said North Battleford has a good working relationship with Husky and the energy company's insurer has paid all costs associated with the spill.

"It may not be over"

Gillan said the city of North Battleford will go back to using the PVC pipeline to the town of Battleford once spring thaw arrives.

Winter and freeze-up changethe river dynamics significantly.- David Gillan, City of North Battleford

He said officials prefer to err on the side of caution before relying heavily on river water, and want more water sampling tests to come back clean next spring and summer.

"Winter and freeze-up change the river dynamics significantly," Gillan said, noting clean-up efforts continue at the spill site. "It may not be over."

Costs related to spill exceed $8 million in Prince Albert

Greg Dionne, mayor of Prince Albert, said Husky has been billed approximately $8M for clean up and the city is not done. 

Some water-related repairs near Little Red River Park cannot be completed until next spring, and those will also be billed to Husky, he said.

Although Husky's report characterized the spill as "a sudden, one-time event", Dionne said it's no surprise that in wet years, riverbanks shift and move.

"This could happen again," he said. "We should be checking for all the pipes to come out to make sure that the ground hasn't moved because it has been wet."

Dionne told reporters in Prince Albert he still doesn't understand how Husky couldn't stop the oil slick from traveling more than 380 kilometres downstream.
Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said costs affiliated with the oil spill will exceed $8 million. To date, Husky estimates it's spent $90 million on the cleanup. (CBC)

"It didn't happen on a tanker in the ocean where it can go four directions," said Dionne of the spill. "It happened in a river channel that's controlled. The channel is so wide and so far that we know where it runs. I don't know why it got away from them."

He said the energy company claimed its booms did not work because of the high river flow in July. The river rises two metres every July, and the company failed to anticipate that. Dionne added.

"If we know the water's coming and we know there's debris coming that could damage the lines, then we should be there protecting them," he said.

Husky to upgrade pipe

Engineers from Stantec noted the south riverbank in the spill area had likely received in excess of 95 millimetres of rain nine days prior to the July 21 leak. In their findings, they noted the riverbank was going through a "very slow-moving landslide" when the pipeline carrying oil diluent 50 kilometres east of Lloydminster buckled and broke.

A report for Husky Energy included images of the damaged section of pipleline. (Husky Energy)
Husky has promised to upgrade that section with heavier pipe and install early-warning monitoring systems in the area.

Citizens in Prince Albert had to cut back water use dramatically this summer when water intakes along the North Saskatchewan River were cut off. The city rolled 30 kilometres of temporary pipeline east to draw water from the South Saskatchewan River instead.

By mid-September, provincial environment authorities said water samples showed treated water from the river would be safe to drink.