Oil spill cleanup ramps up again as river recedes

By Geoff Smith
September 9, 2016 - 5:00pm

Crews working to clean up the North Saskatchewan River from the Husky oil spill have recovered nearly 80 per cent of the released oil.

Wes Kotyk, the executive director of the Ministry of Environment’s Environmental Protection Branch, said the water level is receding, allowing the cleanup to resume. The level in the river reached a peak of 4.1 m due to heavy rain in Alberta, but that level has since receded to 2.3 m as of Friday, Sept. 9 and is expected to drop to 1.75 m.

Kotyk said the rising level complicated the cleanup in some locations by altering the shoreline however, it didn’t necessarily leave crews worse off because it came after much of the site was already cleaned.

“There are some cases where (oil has) redeposited in different locations, so that identifies the need to ensure that further assessment is done. And the shoreline erosion has also resulted in where there were some identified hot spots that are no longer in existence,” he said.

The Water Security Agency revealed the results of tests on samples taken since Sept. 1. Two out of 39 new samples failed to meet guidelines for aquatic life. Only one sample in total, taken Aug. 11, failed the human consumption guidelines.

Out of 65 sediment samples taken, a total of 37 were above the guidelines meant to protect organisms in the sediment that are essential to the ecosystem. A total of 148 animals have died in the spill: 10 birds, 32 waterfowl, 50 mammals, two reptiles, 41 fish, and 13 crustaceans. None of them were found after Sept. 6.

Sam Ferris, an official with the agency, said he couldn’t provide a date on when cities like North Battleford and Prince Albert can use their water intakes again. He said all of the affected parties discussed the matter.

“We’re hoping that we can see a return to use certainly before winter, as soon as possible,” Ferris said. He agreed there is a sense of urgency, because the temporary above-ground pipelines to alternate water sources won’t be functional in the winter.

“Things are looking good,” he said. “I’ve seen the data set, and things are looking good. We just need to make sure we have considered all the aspects here, and we’re working on that right now.”

Responding to an independently-commissioned report by E-Tech International that said a faster response could have mitigated the spill’s effects, Ferris said the river was moving so quickly at the time surface booms wouldn’t have held back the spilled oil. But in general, Ferris said sooner is better when dealing with a spill.

While the government said it will wait for a full report before it comments on possible causes of the spill, it now plans to inspect pipelines that cross waterways, wherever a water supply may be at risk.

In a news release, the Ministry of the Economy said it will inspect each such crossing, beginning along the North Saskatchewan River. It will also work with the National Energy Board, which regulates crossings on the South Saskatchewan River.

In a news release announcing the inspections, Energy and Resources Minister Dustin Duncan said pipelines remain the best way for safety and environment to move oil to refineries.


Geoff Smith is battlefordsNOW's News Director, business and agriculture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or tweet him @smithco.  

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