PRINCE ALBERT, Sask.—Husky Energy knew something might be wrong with one of its oil pipelines about 14 hours before it told the Saskatchewan government of a leak which has since forced communities along the North Saskatchewan River to seek alternative drinking water.
In an update posted to its website July 26, the company said its monitoring detected “pressure anomalies” as several segments of the pipeline were being returned to service. Such a thing is common when pipelines are started up, the company said.
Husky said it immediately began reviewing data. Crews were sent to check the pipeline, but they did not find a leak. The company also arranged for aerial surveillance to be done at daybreak.
The company said that it began to shut down the pipeline as a precaution 6 a.m. on Thursday. That morning, a sheen was spotted on the river and Husky’s emergency response plan kicked into gear. Cleanup crews were sent to the spill site near Maidstone, Sask.
The Saskatchewan government got word of the spill at around 10:30 a.m. that day.
The pipeline runs from Husky’s heavy oil operations to its facilities in Lloydminster and carries oil mixed with a lighter hydrocarbon, called a diluent, that’s added to ease the flow.
Husky vice-president Al Pate, who is overseeing the spill response, said the company will review what happened.
“Our investigation is going to be comprehensive and it’s going to be thorough, so we will know in due course the sequence of events and what exactly transpired, but right now we’re focused on the response,” Pate said Tuesday.
Laurie Pushor with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of the Economy called Husky “open and transparent” and a “responsible operator” and said a provincial investigation will examine whether the company responded appropriately.
Greenpeace spokesman Keith Stewart said the time lag between leak detection and pipe shutdown isn’t surprising.
“The paper version of spill response plans looks very impressive, but the reality looks like cities scrambling for new water supplies.”
But that scrambling is behind schedule. The city manager for Prince Albert, Sask., says a temporary pipeline to bolster the city’s water supply during an oil spill cleanup on the nearby North Saskatchewan River won’t be ready until Friday.
The line—essentially a giant hose—runs about 30 kilometres to the South Saskatchewan River, but Jim Toye says pumps to move the water are not ready.
Until that happens, the city will draw water from its retention pond, which will add an extra four to five days to the overall supply.
Prince Albert officials have said water usage has clearly gone down since restrictions were put in place earlier this week after the water treatment plant intake on the North Saskatchewan was shut down because of the arriving oil slick.
The spill happened last week when a Husky Energy Inc. pipeline leaked an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 litres of crude into the river near Maidstone.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was expected Wednesday to comment on the leak.
With files from radio station CJLR and The Canadian Press