Ministry uncertain how far oil spill has travelled

By Spencer Sterritt
July 27, 2016 - 1:43pm

Representatives from the Ministry of Environment say it’s unclear how far oil has travelled down the North Saskatchewan River.

Lo Cheng, director of the environmental emergencies division with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said aerial surveillance shows the oil sheen has likely reached Highway 6 near Choiceland, though they won’t be able to confirm until further testing is complete.

She said it’s difficult to predict how the oil will move down the North Saskatchewan River and is difficult to spot, due to the existing brown colour of the river and the number of solubles within it.

“We really want to sample and verify before saying the sheen has reached Highway 6,” she said.

Cheng said sampling is underway to determine where the main bulk of the oil spill currently is, since the sheen is just the first wave of oil travelling down the river.

“We’re going and collecting sediment for sampling, and those samples are coming in to provide more clarity for where is the oil. There’s a level of confidence we need before we can say it’s travelled this far,” she said.

The sheen has travelled at least 370 km down the river so far, according to Cheng.

Further up the river, nine booms have been installed to capture the spilled oil close to the site of the leak.

Wes Kotyk, executive director of the environmental protection branch with the Ministry of Environment said the cleanup effort continues unabated, focused on the 20 km area down from the initial leak near Maidstone.

As for why the nine booms haven’t been set up closer to Prince Albert, Kotyk said they are looking at where booms would be most effective for oil recovery.

“The nature of the sheen and the way it’s moving in the river, there has been limited success to actually be able to recover material from the surface,” he said. “They may be looking at additional boom deployment, but at this point they are focused on those areas where they’d be the most effective.”

Kotyk said the booms are collecting less and less.

“The sheen as it moves downriver does disperse and become thinner and thinner. The effectiveness of booms, that’s where the discussion is. They’re likely not going to be very effective collecting the bulk of the material once the sheen becomes that thin,” he said.

He couldn’t comment on any alternatives to booms at the present time.

Husky Energy vice-president Al Pate was not on the provincial conference call, though he had previously been on every call. On Tuesday, Pate faced tough questions about Husky’s response to the oil spill, and when it was first discovered.

According to Husky Energy, an anomaly was first noticed in their pipeline near Maidstone the night of Wednesday, July 20 and the leak was reported the morning of Thursday, July 21.

Between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of oil spilled into the North Saskatchewan River.

 

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