Saskatoon

No decision on charges against Husky as oil spill cleanup nears end: Sask. gov't

Prosecutors with the Saskatchewan government are still mulling whether to press charges against Husky Energy for the pipeline oil spill that was detected exactly a year ago.

'Amounts of remaining oil are relatively small and isolated,' according to latest update

The amounts of remaining oil to clean up from the 2016 Husky Energy oil spill "are relatively small and isolated," according to the Saskatchewan government. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

Prosecutors with the Saskatchewan government are still mulling whether to press charges against Husky Energy for the pipeline oil spill that was detected exactly one year ago.

"Prosecutions is still examining the file, regarding charges. [The Ministry of] Justice will make a statement on that once that determination is made," a government spokesperson said.

Husky is paying for the ongoing cleanup, the cost of which is unknown. 

"I haven't been receiving any updates from them on what their costs are," said Wes Kotyk, Saskatchewan's assistant deputy minister of environment, during a news conference Thursday.  

The provincial government provided an update on the effort to clean up the spill, which saw 225,000 litres of oil foul the shoreline of the North Saskatchewan River.

Repairs authorized

The update comes as Saskatchewan's Ministry of the Economy authorizes Husky Energy to start construction on repairs to the 16TAN pipeline.

The authorization doesn't allow the company to restart the line; testing, inspection and evaluation of the repairs is needed before oil starts flowing through the line again, said Kathy Young, the premier's chief of operations and communications, in an email.

Young pointed to several measures on the redesigned pipeline crossing that are meant to lower the risk of slope movement causing a future rupture of the pipeline. Ground shifting is thought to have been a factor in last year's leak.   

The re-design measures include:

  • Substantially thicker pipe on the sloped portion of the pipeline.
  • Meters to monitor the rate of ground movement and ground water levels that could contribute to slope movement.
  • "State-of-the-art" fibre-optic systems to monitor strain on the pipe in addition to existing leak monitoring systems.
  • Installation of surface water control measures along the bank including diversion berms and trench breakers.

'Small and isolated' pockets of oil remain 

The second and final stage of this year's cleanup and assessment program, which has been underway since early May, is expected to wrap up in mid-August, with ongoing monitoring throughout the summer and fall.

Before cleaning had stopped last year, approximately 210,000 litres of oil had been accounted for and removed.

"The amounts of remaining oil are relatively small and isolated, and assessments tell us that any remaining oil is weathered and low overall risk to the river quality or wildlife," according to Thursday's online report.

"Examples of areas still requiring cleanup include oiled woody debris, vegetated mats and oil buried by sediment."

45 people, helped by dogs

The cleanup project currently involves 45 people and the use of dogs to help find any more areas that require remediation, especially around the spill location and areas where oil was previously found.

The oil leaked from the pipeline where it crosses the river near Maidstone, Sask. The spill affected the drinking water of nearby communities, such as Prince Albert and North Battleford, and seeped onto the shores of the James Smith Cree Nation.

Water samples have also been collected at key locations since the spring melt, and sediment and fish sampling is expected to happen later this month.

Six summary reports filed to Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment "do not indicate any ongoing concerns with fish populations or habitat, nor any risks to human health from fish consumption."

A "do not consume" fish advisory had already been lifted for nearby communities in May. 

"Quite frankly, unless there's another significant event or a hotspot turns up or something to that effect, I don't think there's too much to worry about in terms of drinking water quality for these communities," said Sam Ferris, the executive director of the province's Water Security Agency.

Ferris added that while water samples collected from the treatment plant in North Battleford did detect a "significant" amount of petroleum hydrocarbon compounds within suspected sediments, "the city did find there was no oil in the water, and that the city's water treatment plant has been functioning effectively" to filter those sediments out of the drinking water.

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