By Frank LaRue
‘In some ways, the oil industry in Saskatchewan has been given a free pass by the province. Pipelines seem to be a particularly under-regulated part of the industry,” Regina University professor, Emily Eaton.
The pipeline discussions and protests will not go away and neither will the oil spills. There have been eleven this year, three of which were from Husky in the Lloydminster area. The first spill happened last December, a relatively small spill of three gallons but in June there was another Husky spill, leading to fifty-three gallons lost near the Saskatchewan river.
Neither of the spills were reported and now in July 50,000 gallons of oil and diluent, the equivalent to 1,572 barrels, leaked into the north Saskatchewan river. The city of Prince Albert have already been given $5 million from Husky but are expected to hand the company a bill for damages that will far exceed that budget. The expenditures so far include salaries of city workers and contractors, material costs in constructing two water pipelines, wages for workers involved with running the city’s Emergency Operations Centre and lost wages from outdoor workers at civic facilities who were temporarily laid off for nearly three weeks.
“The majority of the staff is students that rely on their wages earned during the summer to pay for tuition,” Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne told the CBC. “The city is doing their part to make sure they are taken care of and we have no doubt that Husky will then reimburse us for the lost hours to our staff and facilities during the oil spill situation.” The bill is expected to be $2 million a month to maintain the water supply until WASA gives its stamp of approval that the water from the river is again drinkable.
Dionne seems to be confident that Husky will live up to it’s responsibilities and the $5 million is a good sign. “This is a payment in good faith. Husky Energy has promised from the onset that they would take full responsibility for the spill and pay all associated costs,” Dionne told the CBC, “And the payment is a good indicator that they are delivering on that promise.”
Husky will have several questions to answer, how three oil spills happened in the same area within a year and nothing was done to prevent them, for example. Fifty thousand gallons of oil seeps into the North Saskatchewan river and all Husky can say is “We’ll look into it.” There has been no valid explanation as to why the cleaning crew didn’t start until a day after the spill. These are the issues that protesters against the pipelines in BC have been pointing out for years.
The stark reality is that oil companies are not honest and that government cast a blind eye on oil company practices. The Saskatchewan Energy Regulator stated, “throughout the course of our review, we will further examine our regulatory practice. Should the review identify any necessary changes, we will be prepared to act quickly to make those changes.”
It’s a bit late to make changes now that the spill has already happened – you don’t lock the stable door after the horses have escaped. The reality is that Husky are making up their own rules and environmental concerns have never been their priority. Perhaps if there were a large government fine for every oil spill, things would change. If the company continues to have spills they should have all licences removed and be replaced by another company who are more sensitive to the dangers of oil spills. If the pipelines are to be used to transport oil they must be watched carefully and the companies that own them should always be under heavy surveillance.