Husky faces charges from 2016 oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River
Crews work to clean up an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan river near Maidstone, Sask., in a July 22, 2016, file photo. (Jason Franson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
CALGARY -- A Saskatchewan mayor whose city's water supply was interrupted for several weeks following a Husky Energy Inc. oil pipeline leak in July 2016 says he hopes environmental charges announced Monday act as a deterrent for other pipeline firms.
Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said the incident on the North Saskatchewan River made him more aware of the danger from the many pipelines that criss-cross the province.
"Now that I know there are more pipelines than I ever assumed there were, and crossing under waterways, that concerns me even more because that tells me it could happen again."
Calgary-based Husky is to appear in Lloydminster, Sask., provincial court on Thursday to face one charge of unlawfully permitting the discharge of a substance that caused an adverse environmental effect, in violation of the Environmental Management and Protection Act, the Saskatchewan government said Monday.
It is also to face eight charges under three sections of the federal Fisheries Act and one charge under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act related to the deposit of "deleterious substances" into water frequented by fish and birds, Environment and Climate Change Canada announced on Monday evening.
The federal department said the charges are the result of a 19-month joint federal-provincial investigation.
The charges result from the spill of 225,000 litres of diluted heavy oil from a Husky pipeline near Maidstone in west-central Saskatchewan.
About 40 per cent of the leaked crude made it into the river, causing an oil plume that flowed hundreds of kilometres downstream and forced the cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort to shut off their water intakes for almost two months.
Dionne praised Husky for its response, pointing out the company "didn't hesitate" in advancing $3 million early on to cover the city's bills as it was forced to pipe water 25 kilometres from the South Saskatchewan River and access other sources to supply water for the city.
North Battleford Mayor Ryan Bater wouldn't comment on the charges but also praised Husky for helping the city deal with its water needs after the accident.
Husky was permitted to restart the pipeline in October after the repaired line was tested and inspected. The company has said the pipeline buckled and leaked because of ground movement, adding the cleanup cost was more than $107 million.
"Fundamentally, we accept full responsibility for the incident, as we have from the beginning," said Husky spokesman Mel Duvall in an email on Monday.
"We have worked hard every day since to make things right and we have learned from it."
He said Husky will review both sets of charges before deciding how it will plead. The charges have not been proven in court.
The provincial charge carries a maximum $1-million fine. An Environment and Climate Change Canada spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request to clarify what the maximum federal penalties could be.
Patrick DeRochie, climate and energy program manager for the group Environmental Defence said the "meagre" provincial maximum fine is typical of regulators allowing companies to avoid paying the true costs of the fossil fuel industry.
"A million-dollar fine is nothing but a slap on the wrist for a massive oil company whose negligence cut off the drinking water of thousands of Saskatchewan residents for months," he said.
The province has "significantly" updated its pipeline laws to increased penalties and adjust licensing and other regulations because of the Husky incident, said Bronwyn Eyre, minister of Saskatchewan Energy and Resources.
"In response to the accident in 2016, we have acted by putting in specific things in the Pipeline Act that will address these issues going forward," she said.
With a file from Ryan McKenna in Regina