Drinking water top priority after oil spill into river: Brad Wall

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Drinking water top priority

Debate over pipelines can wait

Visits temporarily suspended at Sask. Penitentiary

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says making sure there is enough drinking water for communities affected by an oil spill into a major river is the No. 1 concern right now.

Wall says the debate about whether pipelines in general are safe can wait until another day.

READ MORE: Drinking water measures could be in place for months due to oil spill: official

“We need to make sure that drinking water is available, that potable water is available to communities affected by this. That’s the first challenge,” he said Wednesday at the legislature in Regina.

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Husky Energy pipeline leaks oil into North Saskatchewan River



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    “We’ll get into the debate on pipelines versus rail or how we move oil across this country at a later date, but for now I think we should just set it aside.”

    READ MORE: Pipeline ‘anomalies’ detected night before leak into North Saskatchewan River

    A leak from a Husky Energy oil pipeline last Thursday released between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of oil, which has been making its way down the North Saskatchewan River.

    It has already hit the cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort, where water intakes have been shut down and measures to conserve drinking water have been put in place.

    An incident report Husky released on Tuesday indicates the company knew something might be wrong with one of its oil pipelines about 14 hours before it told the Saskatchewan government of the leak.

    READ MORE: Timeline: Major recent spills on the Prairies

    Wall noted that Husky has said it will review what happened and why there was a delay, but he added that the company’s response to the spill itself appears to have followed protocol.

    WATCH: There are concerns the clean-up from an oil pipeline leak in Saskatchewan could take longer than expected. Reid Fiest reports on what’s being done to deal with the situation. 

    He also said he expects Husky to live up to its promise to cover the costs of cleanup – and more.

    “Husky has said that they will be responsible for the financial costs of all of this and I expect that to be the case,” he said.

    “We think of the big costs and the responsibility for those are on the company … but we also should be concerned … that there’s been business interruption costs for a lot of small businesses and that will need to be a part of the cost to Husky as well.”

    He was planning to visit the affected area on Thursday. But local officials, saying they wanted to focus on their response efforts, asked the premier to wait until later.

    READ MORE: The Pas looks for alternatives to tap water because of Saskatchewan oil spill

    Shelley Gordon, owner of the 6th Avenue Car Wash in Prince Albert, has not been able to run her business since Monday.

    “It’s been very unfortunate. Employees are without wages. We’re without revenue to get through this tough time,” she said.

    On a normal summer day, cars would be lined up, she said.

    “This is when car washes make their money. It makes up for the days in January and December when we’re really quiet. It’s an unfortunate time of the year to have a disaster like this happen.”

    The cleanup effort has run into some challenges.

    The oil sheen has been dispersing as it moves downstream, which makes it more difficult to skim it off the surface, said Wes Kotyk with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment.

    Nine booms have been placed on the river where they’re believed to be most helpful, but their performance is in question.

    “They’re likely not going to be very effective in accumulating or collecting any of the material once the sheen gets that thin.”

    Some of the oil has sunk, but it’s not clear how much. There is no plan yet to clean up the below-surface oil because not enough is known about how the heavy conventional crude reacts in water.

    Samples have been sent for analysis and Husky has been helpful in providing its own chemical tests, said Lo Cheng, with the federal Environment and Climate Change Department.

    “Really what we need to understand is how does that product behave in this environment? What is its fate? Does it degrade? Does it break down? Does it interact with sediment?”

    Sam Ferris of Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency said North Battleford should have enough water in its reservoirs if it continues its conservation efforts and there is no major event, such as a major fire, to deplete the supply.

    One other option being considered is to pre-treat the oil-tainted river water before it enters the plant.

    There could be long-term costs as well. The Water Security Agency doesn’t have enough information yet to estimate how long areas affected by the spill may have to keep interim water measures in place, the premier said.

    The ecological impact on the river will also have to be assessed and addressed.

    “We’ve got to have complete restoration and rehabilitation of habitat and the ecology along the North Saskatchewan.”

    In Prince Albert, the city manager said a temporary pipeline that was to be completed on Wednesday to bolster the city’s water supply wouldn’t be done until Friday.

    The oil spill has also forced Correctional Service of Canada to temporarily suspend visits at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

    Officials say the facility continues to operate on a modified routine and is not under lockdown.

    With files from Global News