PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says making sure there is enough drinking water for communities affected by an oil spill into a major river is the No. 1 concern right now.
Wall says the debate about whether pipelines in general are safe can wait until another day.
"We need to make sure that drinking water is available, that potable water is available to communities affected by this. That's the first challenge,'' he said Wednesday at the legislature in Regina.
"We'll get into the debate on pipelines versus rail or how we move oil across this country at a later date, but for now I think we should just set it aside.''
Oil is seen on the North Saskatchewan River on Friday. (Photo: Jason Franson/CP)
A leak from a Husky Energy (TSE:HSE) oil pipeline last Thursday released between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of oil, which has been making its way down the North Saskatchewan River.
It has already hit the cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort, where water intakes have been shut down and measures to conserve drinking water have been put in place.
An incident report Husky released on Tuesday indicates the company knew something might be wrong with one of its oil pipelines about 14 hours before it told the Saskatchewan government of the leak.
"We'll get into the debate on pipelines versus rail or how we move oil across this country at a later date, but for now I think we should just set it aside."
Wall noted that Husky has said it will review what happened and why there was a delay, but he added that the company's response to the spill itself appears to have followed protocol.
He also said he expects Husky to live up to its promise to cover the costs of cleanup — and more.
"Husky has said that they will be responsible for the financial costs of all of this and I expect that to be the case,'' he said.
"We think of the big costs and the responsibility for those are on the company ... but we also should be concerned ... that there's been business interruption costs for a lot of small businesses and that will need to be a part of the cost to Husky as well.''
A bird is cleaned after being caught in the Saskatchewan oil spill. (Photo: Lend A Paw Animal Rescue/Facebook)
Car washes and laundromats, for example, have had to shut down as communities conserve water, said Wall, who plans to visit the affected area on Thursday.
There could be long-term costs as well. The Water Security Agency doesn't have enough information yet to estimate how long areas affected by the spill may have to keep interim water measures in place, the premier said.
The ecological impact on the river will also have to be assessed and addressed.
"We've got to have complete restoration and rehabilitation of habitat and the ecology along the North Saskatchewan.''
Prince Albert waiting on water pipeline
In Prince Albert, the city manager said a temporary pipeline that was to be completed on Wednesday to bolster the city's water supply wouldn't be done until Friday.
The line — essentially a giant hose — is to run about 30 kilometres to the South Saskatchewan River, but Jim Toye said pumps to move the water were not ready.
The city was planning to draw water from its retention pond, which will add an extra four to five days to the overall supply.
Prince Albert officials have said water usage has clearly gone down since restrictions were put in place earlier this week.
(CJLR, The Canadian Press)
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