Wednesday, 03 August 2016 14:08

Husky oil spill reinforces need for review of regulatory system

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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The recent spill of heavy oil from a Husky Energy pipeline into the North Saskatchewan River might raise public awareness in the province about the safety of pipelines, but it is doubtful if it will change many people’s existing perceptions about the issue.

For the approximately 70,000 residents whose water supply have been directly affected in various communities downstream from the spill, the lower safety risk from transporting oil by pipeline instead of by rail must now seem to be a rather irrelevant issue.
As much as 250,000 litres of oil and other toxins leaked from the pipeline near Maidstone into the North Saskatchewan River. Husky Energy’s monitoring system indicated some pipeline pressure anomalies on the evening of July 20, but the oil flow shutdown only took place the following morning.
Initial efforts to contain the oil spill with the deployment of skimming booms on the river was not successful and downstream communities were forced to shut water intakes on the river as the pollution plume moved closer.
North Battleford has a ground water supply and also received water from the Town of Battleford’s treatment plant, but the City of Prince Albert had to take emergency measures to install a 30-kilometre pipeline at a cost of more than $1 million from the South Saskatchewan River to provide water to the community.
The Saskatchewan government has been providing daily updates on the cleanup efforts. The Aug. 2 update reported a total of 58 wildlife mortalities, including birds and fish. Officials noted about 133,000 litres of oil has already been recovered from the river, but it was unlikely all the spilled oil will be removed from the environment.
The oil spill has raised questions about the effectiveness of the provincial regulatory system for pipelines. CBC News reported the spill occurred shortly after Husky Energy restarted oil flow through this pipeline as part of an expansion project.
The ruptured pipeline was constructed in 1997, but it has been connected to Husky Energy’s new oil pipeline network in west central Saskatchewan. During the past few years the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment gave the green light to four different Husky expansion projects in the area involving the construction of new pipelines without requiring environmental impact assessments.
An audit conducted in 2012 by the Provincial Auditor of Saskatchewan found the Ministry of Energy and Resources did not have effective processes in place to ensure the oil industry’s full compliance with the Pipelines Act and associated regulations.
“Failure to regulate pipelines effectively could harm people or the environment,” the auditor’s report stated.
The report made numerous recommendations to improve the risk assessment and compliance procedures for pipelines, but in a 2014 follow-up report the provincial auditor found the government has only fully implemented two of the seven recommendations.
The Ministry of Economy (formerly the Ministry of Energy and Resources) indicated the auditor’s recommendations would be considered as part of future amendments to the Pipeline Act.
The Saskatchewan government has been criticized in recent years for not doing enough to monitor pipelines in the province. The Leader Post reported last week there are currently 27 pipeline inspectors in the province while there are about 118,000 kilometres of provincially-regulated pipeline.
Saskatchewan Environment Minister Herb Cox told the CBC there will be a ministerial review of this oil spill. Most Saskatchewan residents appreciate the importance of the energy industry to the provincial economy, but they also expect the industry to be properly regulated. The only benefit this oil spill can possibly have will be a rigorous assessment of the shortcomings of the current monitoring and oversight procedures of the industry.

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