Husky pleads guilty, pays $3.82M fine for 2016 Saskatchewan oil spill

Husky Energy will pay fines amounting to $3.82 million after a pipeline spill in Saskatchewan in 2016 leaked into the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone, SK.

Husky Energy says the 2016 Saskatchewan oil spill was caused by shifting ground over time. Government of Saskatchewan photo.

Husky Energy entered guilty pleas on federal and provincial charges in connection with the 2016 Saskatchewan oil spill that forced a number of towns and cities in the province to temporarily find other sources of water.

The Calgary-based company will pay fines totalling $3.82 million.

Husky subsidiary Husky Oil Operations Limited was fined $2.5 million under the federal Fisheries Act and $200,000 for a violation of the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. It was fined $800,000 under the Saskatchewan Environmental Management and Protection Act and assessed a 40 per cent victim impact surcharge of $320,000.

“From the outset of this event, we accepted full responsibility for the spill and we restated that today,” said CEO Rob Peabody. “We recognize this event had significant impacts on the cities, towns and Indigenous communities along the river. We appreciate the way they worked with us on the cleanup and their patience and understanding in the months following the spill.”

The Crown withdrew other charges against the company, including not taking immediate remedies to prevent or counteract the effects of the spill as well as not immediately notifying authorities about the spill of 225,000 litres of “heavy crude oil in water frequented by fish” into the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone, Sask.

According to CBC News, the Crown Prosecutor told the court that the spill was initially reported by a civilian and then by a “third-party operator”.

The pipeline was shut down on July 21 at 10 a.m., one day after the spill started.  The company did not report the spill to authorities until 1:50 p.m., that day.  Environment Canada and Husky crews began searching for the origin of the spill which was eventually shut down later on July 21.

The leak was discovered on a pipeline that crossed the North Saskatchewan River.  Husky says the pipeline was isolated at the river crossing and spill response crews were dispatched.

About 225,000 litres of crude blended with condensate were released and approximately 60 per cent of the volume was contained on land.  The cause of the pipeline spill was determined to be ground movement over time.

As a result of the leak, a number of towns and cities along the river had to scramble to secure clean water.  Saskatchewan cities, including North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort to shut off their water intakes for almost two months.

The court received victim impact statements from three Indigenous communities in the area.  Chief Wayne Semaganis spoke to the court on behalf of his Little Pine First Nation as well as Sweetgrass and Red Pheasant bands.

Semaganis said the clean up in the area was not good enough.  He said birds, wildlife and fish are still suffering from the effects of the spill and First Nations have lost traditional use of their land.

“We no longer fish in the river. We no longer trap on or near reserve lands. We no longer farm on or near reserve lands,” he said. “We no longer drink water drawn from reserve lands.”

North Battleford and Prince Albert also filed victim impact statements which were read aloud by the Crown.

“The impact was dire, ongoing and will cause long-lasting changes to procedures and processes,” said the statement from North Battleford’s city manager James Puffalt.

The City of Prince Albert said in its statement that the spill caused significant disruption and stress for the city’s residents and caused considerable costs to the city of about 36,000 people.

“The city was forced to implement its emergency operations centre,” said the statement.  Prince Albert also had to lay temporary lines to two rivers nearby to provide drinking water.

“We understand that some people think we could have done better,” said Peabody. He added “After having such a long and successful history in this region, the event three years ago was a disappointment for all of us.”

“It has been our goal to show through our actions that we learned from this event and are committed to being a good neighbour and partner.”

Provincial court Judge Lorna Dyck presided over the case.  She said “Once the leak was discovered, Husky acted quickly and properly.” She added “I believe Husky has learned from this mistake.”

Husky says as a result of the spill, it has improved its pipeline operations.  The company says the improvements include an updated leak response protocol, regular geotechnical reviews of pipelines and fibre optic sensing technology installed on all new large diameter and higher consequence projects.

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