Does the Saskatchewan pipeline spill tell us anything?

Nice_dayAccording to the Huffington Post, a gathering pipeline for the Husky Oil upgrader in Lloydminster apparently developed a leak on the morning of July 21, 2016. This leak spilled crude oil into the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone, Saskatchewan. Husky’s attempts to block the dispersal of between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of oil with booms and skimming failed.

Oh if it had only missed the water!

The spill forced the city of North Battleford—whose source of drinking water is the North Saskatchewan River—to shut down its water intake plant and severely limit water use. Further downstream on the North Saskatchewan, the same spill forced the city of Prince Albert to run a 30-km emergency water line from the South Saskatchewan River. Many rural residents in the area were forced to find alternate water sources. All of these temporary fixes come at considerable cost including the income losses suffered by out-of-work employees laid off due to water shortages. Seasonal industries, which depend on a good summer season, were especially hit hard.

Husky’s muddled story

Husky issued conflicting versions of how the spill unfolded.

  • Originally the Canadian Press stated that Husky claimed it found the leak of up to 250,000 litres of blended crude oil at 8 p.m. on July 20, and notified the Saskatchewan government about 14 hours later.
  • Then, Husky’s report to the province said the breach was discovered at 10 a.m. on July 21and they informed the province about 30 minutes later.
  • Yet again, in the following week, Husky changed its story. This time it said, “ it found ‘pressure anomalies’ on the evening of July 20 and shut down the line the next morning.”
The spill spreads
  • The Winnipeg Free Press pointed out that many businesses especially car washes and laundries have lost significant money and that North Battleford and Prince Albert weren’t sure when water plants could start to draw water again because they weren’t equipped to deal with hydrocarbons
  • The Toronto Star reported that some of the Husky water tests from 60 locations indicated they met Canadian water standards. However, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall insisted that more tests were necessary. Husky’s testing methods were called into question and Sask Water security Agency wanted to do more testing.
  • The National Observer noted that the Saskatchewan Government announced that, ” it is ‘unlikely’ that the clean-up effort will be able to remove all of the oil.”
Obfuscate if you can

As of August 22, the Saskatchewan Government reported that 800 people were still involved in the cleanup and that the “shoreline clean up on the most heavily impacted area is complete. However, on Aug 16 the Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment, in the Financial Post, stated that, “it’s unlikely that all the oil can be cleaned up.” The ministry spokesperson said this refers mainly to oil that will sink to the river’s bottom. The ministry spokesperson went on to say that it will be a long time before the river is clean again. Also, the oil on the bottom could be churned up by moving ice in next spring’s thaw.

The average reader may not notice the difference between bottom clean-up (not mentioned in their status report) and shoreline cleanup.

Ask the right questions
  • Why such a poor response in to a small amount in such an accessible area? According to the Toronto Star the amount leaked is quite small, ” …mixed with thinning agents—it would fill about two rail tankers.” Imagine the consequences of a large spill in the mountains where access is extremely limited and the recovery would have to deal with rapids and waterfalls.
  • Why the differences in the detection story? Is Husky trying to do damage control and hide their poor detection capacity ?
  • Is the Saskatchewan pipeline regulatory system weak? According to SASKOIL, the province,  “is moving to ‘regulation by declaration’ in the oil industry”, which is going to make the situation even worse. SASKOIL claims that this spill is only one of 18,000 since 1990. If the spill had occurred only on land nobody would have heard of it.
  • Will Premier Wall take any responsibility? Alberta Politics says that Wall disappeared for a week and refused to talk about the environmental disaster when he did finally show up. Wall has been the great proponent for pipelines and within hours, just before his disappearance, was going on about pipelines being the safest way to transport oil. Then he said that he would get into the debate about pipelines—”at a later date.”
What does it mean?

What does this say about pipelines being the safest way to transport oil? Maybe we need to skip that question. Do you think that oil is the problem—NOT the transportation method?

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