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No More Pipelines – Major Oil Spill Forces Closure of Drinking Water Intakes for Multiple Saskatchewan Municipalities

Above: Enbridge’s ruptured Line 6 in Kalamazoo, MI, that spilled 3.3 million litres of diluted bitumen in the Kalamazoo river in 2010. Four years later, Enbridge was still cleaning up bitumen and had already spent well over $1 billion.

On Thursday July 21st, a Husky Energy owned pipeline spilled between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of heavy oil mixed with diluents in the North Saskatchewan River near Lloydminster and Maidstone, Saskatchewan. An official from the petroleum and natural gas branch of the province’s economy ministry said that the pipeline was built in 1997 and was carrying heavy oil from Husky’s Heavy Oil operations in the region to it’s terminal and upgrader in Lloydminster. The faulty pipeline was located on Husky’s Saskatchewan Gathering System.

Following a third party observation of an oil sheen on the North Saskatchewan River on Thursday Husky Energy deployed emergency response teams and set up booms to attempt to stop the spill from progressing downstream. By late Friday 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. You can see pictures of the oil flowing down the river here.

North Battleford had prepared for this eventuality and shut down it’s drinking water intake and put in place emergency measures including limiting some of the town’s water uses and preparing to use alternate groundwater source. The city announced it would maintain these emergency measures at least until Monday July 25th.

Further downstream, the city of Prince Albert and other municipalities near the intersection of the North and South Saskatchewan rivers, including Melfort, who also draw their water from the contaminated river, have prepared plans to shut down their intake before the oil reaches them. On Friday, the city of Prince Albert urged residents to stockpile water before the shutdown occurs.

An official from the government of Saskatchewan environment department indicated that the clean-up and attempts to control the spill is still unpredictable at this time given recent rainfall and debris in the water that the oil could attach to.

As of Saturday Lend A Paw Animal Rescue located near Maidstone/Battleford Saskatchewan had posted a few pictures on Facebook of efforts to aid oil drenched birds and requesting help from the community to assist oil-soaked wildlife.

On Saturday July 23rd, Jim Elliott, Chairperson of the Regina Chapter of the Council of Canadians, said that “the unwillingness of Premier Wall to deal head on with this substantive spill into the water sources of thousands of Saskatchewan residents is appalling. When his first response to a potential 1600 barrel spill into the North Saskatchewan River is ‘he hopes this spill does not make it harder to sell new energy infrastructure’, it is offensive and unbecoming of a premier of this province.”

Not if, but when – the inevitable and permanent consequences of transporting oil

This recent oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River comes at uncomfortable time and location for the oil industry and Provincial premiers Notley and Wall. But there are some that are made even more uncomfortable: local wildlife, residents and First Nation Communities that use the river for drinking, leisure or their livelihoods.

This terrible incident hammers home what the Council of Canadians has been saying for a long time: pipelines will spill and pipelines will cause damage. While we are still figuring out how to contain this newest spill, the impacts are already being felt and will continue to felt for a long time to come. Once again, the spill was detected by a third party after it was too late instead of by the so-called “world class detection system” that pipeline transporters refer to.

When thinking about the future we want, let us remember that the proposed Energy East pipeline crosses 90 watersheds, nearly 3000 waterways and puts the drinking water of over 5 million people at risk along it’s route. For more information on the risks associated with Energy East to our drinking water and our waterways, please read: Energy East: Where oil meets water and Energy East: A risk to our drinking water