Skip to content

Council-supported study finds 14-hour delay amplified oil spill damage to North Saskatchewan River

The Muskoday First Nation had to truck in its water after the Husky Energy oil spill in the Kisiskatchewan (North Saskatchewan) River.

The Husky Energy oil pipeline spill into the North Saskatchewan River this summer meant that the drinking water supply for more than 70,600 people – in North Battleford, Prince Albert, Melfort, and the Muskoday First Nation (also known as the James Smith Cree Nation) – was compromised. The three cities had to shut off their water plant intakes and secure alternate sources of drinking water, while the Muskoday First Nation had to truck in its water.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix now reports, “A 14-hour delay between the start of Husky Energy Inc.’s oil spill in Saskatchewan and the company’s response greatly amplified its effect on the environment, according to the scientist behind a new investigation into the July 20 incident. …Commissioned by groups affected by the spill, including Idle No More, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Council of Canadians, E-Tech International’s report is based on the results of nine composite sediment samples collected on Aug. 16 and 17.”

The newspaper explains, “Husky’s initial incident report, filed with the provincial government, said the spill was detected at 8 p.m. on July 20, and that it notified the provincial government 14 hours later. That report was later amended to say the leak was detected at 10 a.m. on July 21, and that the province was notified about 30 minutes later. The company said the change was necessary because its first report was based on a miscommunication.”

There are still outstanding questions about the timeline of the spill’s detection, as well as the methodology of Husky’s water quality testing and when this information will be made public.

The Star-Phoenix adds, “The provincial government declined a request for an interview regarding E-Tech International’s report. In an email, Executive Council’s chief of operations and communications, Kathy Young said, the results of an ongoing investigation will be made public.”

While a representative of the provincial Water Security Agency said last month he was “hopeful” North Battleford and Prince Albert would be able to reopen their water treatment plants’ intakes before this winter, the author of the report, E-Tech hydrogeologist Ricardo Segovia, warns that the hydrocarbons detected in sediment along the river are “very, very nasty” and could persist for years. He says, “You can’t go back to the way things were before … because there’s that chance that (contaminants) can be stirred up from the sediments, you have to be constantly monitoring those water intakes for the next several years at least.”

CBC News adds, “So far, the government has said Husky has recovered 73 per cent of the oil and solvent that spilled into the river. Eighty-four per cent of the ‘high priority areas’ have been cleaned. But Segovia says despite Husky continuing their cleanup, they are ignoring the fact that the oil is now settling on the bottom of the river. ‘This is going to cause long-terms problems’, said Segovia. ‘There isn’t enough detail about the results coming out or the methods used or the quality-control documents.'”

The Council of Canadians has been following this situation throughout the summer.

On July 24, energy campaigner Daniel Cayley-Daoust wrote in No More Pipelines – Major Oil Spill Forces Closure of Drinking Water Intakes for Multiple Saskatchewan Municipalities, “Following a third party observation of an oil sheen on the North Saskatchewan River on [July 21] Husky Energy deployed emergency response teams and set up booms to attempt to stop the spill from progressing downstream. By late [July 22] evening a government official announced that the attempt to contain the spill with booms had failed and that the oil was sailing through North Battleford, a city of 14,000.”

On July 28, organizer Mark Calzavara wrote in Parallel pipeline disasters, “There are many parallels between [the] heavy oil spill from a Husky Energy pipeline in Saskatchewan and the Enbridge pipeline rupture in Kalamazoo Michigan almost exactly six years ago. Both ruptures occurred while control room staff were restarting the flow in the pipelines. In both cases, ‘anomalies’ were indicated by computers systems monitoring the pipelines. In both cases, the companies failed to interpret the ‘anomalies’ as leaks. In both cases, significant periods of time elapsed before the companies were made aware of the leaks by members of the public seeing the oil floating down river.”

The National Observer has also quoted Calzavara commenting, “Husky is desperately trying to manipulate public opinion after their disastrous spill. The Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health [the U.S.-based firm hired by Husky to test water samples] is nothing more than a hired gun brought in to downplay the effects of the spill. They would be more aptly named ‘Oil Spill Spin Incorporated,’ which better describes their history and clientele.”

On July 29, Cayley-Daoust and water campaigner Emma Lui wrote in a Regina Leader-Post op-ed, “Though proponents claim pipelines are the so-called ‘safest’ method of transporting oil, we have seen 8,360 spills in Saskatchewan since 2006, of which Husky is responsible for 1,463. This isn’t isolated to Saskatchewan either — there have been 28,666 crude oil spills in Alberta in the last 37 years. How is this considered safe? The problem is that there are far too many spills from both rail and pipelines. The answer to this is twofold: we need to regulate existing pipelines and rail transport better, and we need to overcome our addiction to oil and begin the transition away from fossil fuels.”

Cayley-Daoust and Lui also highlight, “The Trudeau government has committed to reviewing environmental and freshwater legislation this fall. We hope this will be an opportunity to develop stronger regulations and prevent environmental disasters of this magnitude in the future. By gutting the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act, the Harper government opened up lakes and rivers to even more risk than before. These new regulations need to be stronger and more effective at regulating and evaluating industrial projects in Canada that can have an impact on our environment.”

In addition, organizer Diane Connors participated in the first meeting of the Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network formed in response to the spill. And organizer Brigette DePape will have an article in the upcoming issue of Canadian Perspectives that features interviews with residents of the communities whose water was impacted by this spill.

For more on our energy campaign, please click here, and for more on our “Every lake, every river” campaign, click here.