Husky oil spill: Public will need to wait for more information on Husky pipeline spill

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment says the public will have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest to find out detailed information on the condition of the North Saskatchewan River.

133K litres of oil taken out of North Saskatchewan River so far

The North Saskatchewan River in Prince Albert on Tuesday, July 26. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment says the public will have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest to find out detailed information on the condition of the North Saskatchewan River.

Two weeks ago, a Husky Energy pipeline spilled more than 200,000 litres of oil and diluent (chemicals used to dillute the oil) into the river near Maidstone, Sask. Ever since, workers have been trying to contain and remove as much of the spill as possible.

The ministry has received an interim report on water quality, but that information is first being released to stakeholders today, as well as to officials in communities along the North Saskatchewan River.

The Ministry of Environment has conducted more than 1200 water samples so far, and have done extensive sampling of the river's sediment. Testing the bottom of the river is important, as it will show how much of the pipeline's oil sank to the bottom, making it difficult to access and remove.

While ministry spokesperson Ash Olesen said he didn't have access to the report, he said sediment results seemed to be positive so far.

"Using a scale of one to 10, with, I'm assuming, one being good, and 10 being bad...It is far closer to the good side of that scale than the bad side," he said.

The City of Prince Albert is testing a temporary water line from the South Saskatchewan River to its water treatment plant after the Husky oil spill left it with a limited supply. (Marc-Antoine Belanger-CBC Radio-Canada)

Oil removal

To date, the Ministry of Environment said it has recovered 133,000 litres of oil from the river so far. However, spokespeople said it was likely that workers won't be able to recover all of the oil in the river.

The unrecovered oil will likely either end up at the bottom of the river in sediment, or will degrade in the river.

"Oil does have components that are more susceptible to natural degredation through exposure to sunlight," said Olesen. "Obviously it's not a component large enough to preclude the efforts that have been undertaken to date."

As well, it's still not clear what the diluent, or pipeline chemicals used to dillute the oil inside the pipeline, are made up of. While the ministry said questions about diluent would need to be answered by Husky Energy, a spokesperson said the mixture would be hydrocarbon-based, and would be removed in the same way that the oil is, through containment through booms and oil skimming.

Communities scrambling

Meanwhile, communities that use the North Saskatchewan River as their primary source for drinking water have been scrambling.

Both North Battleford and Prince Albert have laid emergency water lines, either to other communities or other rivers, as they wait for the North Saskatchewan River to be cleared. 

While many residents are becoming frustrated with water restrictions, the Water Security Agency (WSA) said it's important to make sure the water is safe before any action is taken.

"When you're dealing with water with hydrocarbons in it, there's no easy solution," said agency spokesperson Patrick Boyle. "And from our perspective, the risk is quite large."

While the WSA is impressed with the creativity communities have shown to bring in fresh drinking water, it is aware that winter is coming, and the threat of small pipelines freezing and breaking.

"Obviously, winter is coming. We know that," said Boyle. "Everyone has been working on a solution for short-term, medium-term and long-term ever since this incident began.