Press Release: SES calls for new oil pipeline safety measures

Press Release
Saskatchewan Environmental Society
Monday, December 5, 2016
For immediate release

SES calls for new oil pipeline safety measures

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) is asking the provincial government to adopt major new initiatives to ensure the safety of oil pipelines in Saskatchewan. These initiatives would build upon and go far beyond the amendments to the provincial Pipelines Act announced last week by Hon. Dustin Duncan, Minister of Energy and Resources. SES is also making several proposals it views as essential to resolving the outstanding issues related to the Husky Energy oil spill.

“We welcome the amendments to the Pipelines Act announced by the Provincial Government on November 28, but much more substantial change is required if we are going to ensure the safety of oil pipelines and the protection of drinking water supplies in Saskatchewan,” said SES President Bert Weichel.

SES says the changes need to start at the time oil companies apply to build new pipelines or expand existing ones. “An Environmental Impact Assessment should be required by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment for any proposed oil pipeline project that crosses an important river, lake, or wetland,” said Weichel. “That was not required for the Husky Energy gathering line where the spill occurred. Nor was it required for the expansion to the Husky Energy oil pipeline system that was built across the North Saskatchewan River last year.”

Next, SES wants to see inspection and emergency response protocols upgraded. “We are glad that Saskatchewan’s 80,000 flow lines are going to be licensed,” said Weichel, responding to Minister Duncan’s announcement last week. “As a next step, we propose that all oil pipelines in Saskatchewan be regularly inspected by the provincial government. Moreover, we want to see those inspections carried out by the Ministry of Environment instead of the Ministry of Economy.”

This summer’s oil spill also shone a bright light on how poorly prepared the Provincial Government and Husky Energy were to respond to a major oil spill. Weichel noted that “for at least the first three days following the spill there were an inadequate number of containment booms and other necessary equipment on the river to capture the oil rapidly.” SES is urging the Province and Husky Energy to upgrade their emergency readiness for oil spills, starting with a plan that ensures essential emergency response equipment will be on hand and out on the water within a matter of hours.

Many safeguards can be built into our pipeline system to reduce the likelihood of serious spills in the future. Peter Prebble, SES board member and lead researcher on the Husky Energy oil spill, said “all oil pipelines that intersect with important water bodies should be all equipped with the latest spill detection technology and with automatic shut-off valves that respond quickly to abnormal pressure anomalies.”

He also proposed that from now on oil pipelines in Saskatchewan should be required to be built with extra heavy walled pipe along sections of the pipeline route where a spill could have serious consequences, such as riverbanks and river crossings, major lakes and protected areas.

SES also wants to see Husky Energy face financial penalties for its role in the July 2016 spill. The Society is asking the Provincial Government to levy fines against Husky Energy for polluting the North Saskatchewan River and endangering an important drinking water resource. Those fines should be levied under both the Pipelines Act and the Environmental Management and Protection Act. Prebble stated that most importantly, as part of a resolution with the Province, Husky should be required to upgrade the safety features on its oil pipelines at river and lake crossings in Saskatchewan, wherever inspectors deem that is advisable.

“This broader corrective action is precisely what was required of Enbridge following its oil pipeline spill in Michigan in 2010. Husky Energy should be held to a similar standard,” said Prebble.

SES has carefully reviewed the technical reports that Husky Energy filed with the Government of Saskatchewan on November 17. Prebble observed that four months after the spill there are still a great many unanswered questions that merit independent third party investigation.

“Examples of those questions include why Husky Energy changed its account of when the oil spill was first discovered and reported, why the initial response to the spill from Husky and the Provincial Government was so slow, how much oil actually spilled, and what steps Husky Energy was taking to monitor the stability of the slope along the North Saskatchewan River prior to the pipeline rupture occurring.” The latter question is important given the prevalence of ground movement in the general area.

Prebble and Weichel emphasized that Husky Energy failed to address these questions when it filed its detailed spill report to the Provincial Government on November 17. The time has therefore come for the Provincial Government to initiate an independent third party investigation into the events surrounding the July 2016 Husky Energy oil spill. One vehicle for doing this would be a public inquiry. The independent investigator should be asked to examine the actions of Husky Energy, its monitoring and inspection records of the pipeline and pipeline corridor in question, the adequacy of the initial emergency response to the spill by Husky and provincial ministries, the ecological consequences of the spill, the full impact of the spill on local communities and First Nations, and the broad range of measures that need to be taken to greatly reduce the risk of another serious spill occurring. The independent investigator should also examine how emergency response to oil spills can be improved, and how an oil spill emergency should be addressed during winter conditions in Saskatchewan.

SES has submitted its recommendations to the provincial Ministers of Environment, Economy, and Energy and Resources in a letter dated December 1, 2016.