Province notified 14 hours after Husky discovered oil spill, incident report shows

Yesterday, Prince Albert’s Mayor Greg Dionne said the water would flow today. Today, he’s suggesting the work to build a new line to a clean, oil-free source will take a little longer.

Temporary piping for new water source to Prince Albert, Sask., meets delays

When it's completed, this line will carry water from the South Saskatchewan River to the city of Prince Albert. The city shut down its water intake on the North Saskatchewan after an oil spill.

Husky Energy issued a news release on Tuesday afternoon as a clarification of the timeline surrounding the leak of 200 to 250 cubic metres of oil into the North Saskatchewan River. 

Earlier in the day, the provincial government released a report on the incident that Husky had filed with the Ministry of Economy. The report said the company discovered a pipeline leak on the edge of the river last Wednesday night. That was about 14 hours before it notified the government and shut off the flow.

The incident report said that on July 20 at 8 p.m. CST a pipeline release was discovered on the south shore of the North Saskatchewan River.

However, the company now says that report was incorrect and that Husky didn't know at the time there had definitely been a "pipeline release." 

In an email, Husky communications official Mel Duval told CBC News that the report submitted to government was incorrect.

Husky now says that "at approximately 8 p.m. the pipeline monitoring system indicated pressure anomalies as several segments of the pipeline system were being returned to service. This is common during startup operations."

It said that as a result of those anomalies the company analyzed the data and sent a crew to look at the area, but it "did not identify a leak." In addition, the company said that early Thursday morning it conducted an aerial surveillance of the area. 

Earlier Tuesday, Al Pate, who's heading up Husky's response to the spill, initially told media the pipeline wasn't shut off until Thursday morning around 10 a.m. 

"The crews were on site shutting in the pipeline Thursday morning," said Pate. That's also when Husky notified the provincial government of the spill.

However Husky is updating that information as well. It now says, "We decided as a further precaution to start safe shutdown procedures at about 6 a.m."

New waterline not complete

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said yesterday the work to complete a new line to supply a clean, oil-free source of water to the city would be complete today. But the latest update from Prince Albert officials is that the waterline won't be operational until at least Friday, owing to unforeseen circumstances on the ground. 

"It's not progressing as we expected. The total lay-down of the pipe has been done, but all the work to get the pumps into place and do the testing won't be up tomorrow, it will be late Friday by the time we can do that," said city manager Jim Toye. 

He added that water from a detention pond in the city has been tested and is being fed into the water treatment plant. It's expected to supply the city with four to five more days of water. 

It has really affected our lives.- Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne 

The city is under a local state of emergency as an oil slick from Thursday's Husky Energy spill upstream on the North Saskatchewan River makes its way through Prince Albert, forcing officials to close the water-treatment plant's intake.

That means strict water restrictions in the city will remain in place. Businesses like laundromats and car washes are shut down and anyone caught wasting water could face a $1,000 fine.​

Dionne understands that rationing water is creating difficulties.   

"Lots of our population can't afford to go to a cabin at the lake or water-skiing, so our water slides and our pools and everything, our water complex, is their summer holidays.

"Lots of seniors have huge gardens, they rely on those gardens for a food source and now they can't water those gardens, so it has really affected our lives."

Once the temporary waterline from the South Saskatchewan River is connected to Prince Albert's water plant, Dionne said, things will return to normal. 

Carol Soles is outraged the city shut off its rural water distribution without notifying rural customers ahead of time. (Submitted by Richard Soles)

Rural residents furious over water shutdown

Residents living in the rural municipality of Prince Albert are shocked no notice was given before the city shut off the taps to about 1,200 customers on Sunday.

In light of the slick moving downstream, Prince Albert officials shut down the water treatment plant intake to protect its water system from any contaminants in the river.

The city shut off water to its rural customers, and some customers are furious with the decision.

"To be cut off with no notice is insane," said Carol Soles, who lives about four kilometres outside of Prince Albert. "There's no water to flush toilets, no water to brush your teeth, no water to shower, and no notice."

Dionne said he understands the frustration, but that rural residents were notified. 

"We started warning residents on Friday to fill your bathtubs, five-gallon pails, conserve water, that the slick is coming and Husky can't stop it, and that we are going to have to close our intake."

Soles is depending on a 379-litre holding tank in her basement to supply the water to flush toilets, wash dishes and brush her teeth. (Submitted by Richard Soles)

All the information Soles and her husband received was an email from Prince Albert Rural Water Utility at 4 p.m. CT on Sunday informing her the water to her home had been shut off earlier in the morning.

"A little bit of notice might have helped so that we could stockpile some water. But it just irritates me that we were treated like non-essential people. They put us in the same class as the car wash," Soles said on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Luckily, they anticipated something like this coming so they purchased two large water jugs and a couple of cases of bottled water.

Living on a rural property, the couple also have a 379-litre holding tank they use to shower and flush toilets. But once that supply runs out, Soles isn't sure what she'll do, adding they may have to hire someone to haul water out to them.

Toye told reporters on Tuesday that rural customers are now being connected with a provincial agency committed to delivering about 95 litres of potable water a day to each rural home. 

Stockpiling water

In the city of Prince Albert, water is flowing freely. But it's not stopping one woman from stockpiling a supply of clean drinking water in case the city's plans for an alternative water supply fails.

"I have containers all over my house and in my basement, in the kitchen, every pickle jar and water container is filled with water," said Shelley Essaunce on CBC's News Network. "Up until today, we've been able to use our tap water to stockpile water and that's been fine. I've been filling jugs and containers and even a flower vase to stockpile as much as I can."

Shelley Essaunce has filled every container, pickle jar, jug and cup with tap water in case the water is turned off in Prince Albert. (Submitted by Shelley Essaunce)

With every container filled, she figures her inventory is upward of 300 litres and she expects the supply to last at least 15 days.

But others have been flocking to the stores for their water supply. Essaunce said she's heard stories of people spending around $500 on bottled water.

"I have experience living in an area where the well went dry every year, so I have experience being really frugal with water. But I don't think that's the normal person's experience," she said.

Shelley Essaunce said she has about 300 litres of clean water stored in containers all over her home in Prince Albert. (Submitted by Shelley Essaunce)

Meanwhile, as Husky Energy concentrates on the long process of trying to clean up the North Saskatchewan River, they've instructed Dionne to keep track of all the city's bills, including the money that businesses are losing because of the water rationing.

Dionne is confident Husky Energy will pay up.

"Husky has assured us that they will pay all our costs and all of our expenses."


  • A previous version of this story stated that Soles received an email from the city. In fact, Soles received an email from the Prince Albert Rural Water Utility.
    Jul 26, 2016 9:41 AM CT

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning


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