Sask. mayors satisfied with Husky’s $3.8M fine for 2016 oil spill

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne feels like his city is whole again after a Husky Energy pipeline buckled, leaked 225,000 litres of blended crude oil and impacted water supplies in three Saskatchewan cities.

On Wednesday, a Lloydminster provincial court judge fined Husky Oil Operations Ltd. $3.8 million for two federal charges related to migratory birds and fisheries laws, along with provincial legislation for releasing a harmful substance.

Dionne said he’s satisfied with the court outcome because it’s levied on top of the costs Husky has incurred to clean up the July 2016 spill – cited in court as $144 million.

“It’s a straight loss to the profit line,” Dionne said.

Roughly 40 per cent of the spill near Maidstone, Sask., entered the North Saskatchewan River. According to Husky, roughly 93 per cent was recovered. Animals were impacted, along with the drinking water supply in Prince Albert, North Battleford and Melfort.

Since the spill, Husky has spent at least $7 million responding to issues in Prince Albert, Dionne said. Without its primary water source, the city of 35,000 pumped in water from the South Saskatchewan River and the Little Red River.

Laundromats, car washes, hotel pools and restaurants had to restrict water use. Often times, profits and wages were negatively impacted.

“Husky did, at the end, make good to all of them,” the mayor said.

The energy giant has partnered with the city on three projects, including completing Prince Albert’s Rotary Trail – the asphalt path which a temporary water pipe ran along in 2016.

Since the Kinsmen Water Park was deemed unusable for the summer after the spill, Husky will also provide funding to build a new splash park.

A new billboard in Prince Albert, also part of the Husky program, will become part of the city’s alert and communications systems.

“As a community, now that it’s all over, we’ve been made whole,” Dionne said.

Impact downstream for the City of Melfort was significantly lower – Husky spent just over $100,000 to cover the 6,000-person community’s costs.

After the spill, Melfort turned to pipes that hadn’t been used in 25 years to draw water from a surface-level reservoir. Husky also provided a truck with potable water, Lang said.

“They talked to us daily, while the catastrophe was being dealt with,” Melfort Mayor Rick Lang said.

“Yeah, Husky caused us a problem, but they were also part of the solution.”

In court on Wednesday, Husky apologized and said it takes full responsibility for the spill. Duane Rae, the company’s vice-president of pipelines, thanked municipalities and Indigenous groups.

“The effectiveness of the cleanup is a testament to the cooperation and support that we received from the communities,” Rae said.

Husky’s pipeline operations and monitoring have changed as a result of the spill, including “more rigid standards and procedures,” Rae said. New equipment and additional training have been put in place.

Rae also acknowledged some feel the company could have done better.

A joint victim impact statement from the Little Pine First Nation, Red Pheasant Cree Nation and Sweetgrass First Nation outlined lingering concerns.

It characterizes Husky’s response as delayed, incomplete and inadequate, which “caused extensive damages to the environment on, in and around the reserve lands.”

Band members no longer, fish or trap on or near their land, according to the statement. Many band members will only drink bottled water, it stated. Farming, traditional ceremonies and medicinal practices are also impacted, according to the communities.

The James Smith Cree Nation and Cumberland House Cree Nation have filed suit against Husky over damages they state resulted from the spill.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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