Sask. oil spill will give ammunition to environmentalists, with good reason

It’s quite disturbing to learn that it took Husky Energy 14 hours to shut down a leaking pipeline in Saskatchewan on July 20.

Reports say the pipeline spilled between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of oil (the equivalent of about two rail cars) into the North Saskatchewan River last week, leading Prince Albert and North Battleford in Saskatchewan to stop drawing their drinking water from the river.

The spill doesn’t affect Fort Saskatchewan, as our water isn’t drawn directly from the river and is treated by EPCOR before being delivered by a regional commission.

But considering I just wrote a column two editions ago noting the importance of pipelines on the heels of the Northern Gateway decision, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the valid concerns of environmentalists and anti-pipeline advocates, especially considering we live in a region where a major pipeline project has been proposed.

And you can bet this recent incident will only give the anti-pipeliners more ammunition in their battle against future pipelines, such as Energy East and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion.

Accidents happen, but we can’t just heap the blame on the government for approving projects. We also need to hold the companies to account to ensure their operations are in our best interests.

Husky’s incident report, released by the Saskatchewan government, says the leak was discovered on July 20 at 8 p.m. Husky has said the only issue they were aware of on July 20 was “irregularities” in their monitoring system.

The next morning, a leak was discovered and crews were sent out.

Thus far, no reasonable answer has been given for why it took so long to address, nor has a reason for the spill been put forward. This really doesn’t build much confidence in the company’s ability to be on top of things.

200,000 litres of oil is considered a relatively minor spill, compared to major incidents such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which spilled nearly 800 million litres in comparison. But any amount of oil spilled into our natural waterways, especially where we draw water from, is too much, in my opinion.

Consider the First Nations community of Grassy Narrows, Ont., which is still suffering effects of mercury poisoning nearly 70 years after a company spilled it into a local waterway. The incident coined a new disease (which had previously only been observed in Japan) called Ontario Minamata Disease.

Mercury and crude are not the same, with one being significantly more toxic than the other. But Grassy Narrows is still a poignant example of how a single incident can drastically and irrevocably transform a community for the worse.

Going forward, energy companies will need to put a strong case forward, not only to the government, but also to all citizens on how they plan to prevent and respond to incidents such as oil spills in an effective manner. Otherwise, we’ll see pipeline after pipeline get sucked into the political black hole.

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