Saskatchewan Oil Spill: Water Tests Find Oil Levels Are Too High

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PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Premier Brad Wall says more tests are needed before drinking water intakes can be reopened after an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan River, despite good preliminary results.

A report released Wednesday by Husky Energy said more than 900 water samples taken at about 60 locations from the spill site near Maidstone to Prince Albert, about 385 kilometres downstream, have met Canadian drinking water standards since July 24.

"That still means there's more work to be done by the way and more testing that needs to be done, especially as we know that the oil in the water could have settled,'' Wall said in North Battleford.

A Husky pipeline leak detected on July 21 spilled up to 250,000 litres of oil mixed with a lighter hydrocarbon called a diluent into the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone.

saskatchewan oil spill
Crews work to clean up an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan River. (Photo: Jason Franson/CP)

A river water sampling program began that day.

The working group includes engineers, environmental specialists, toxicologists and public health specialists representing Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment, the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, Health Canada, Husky, Matrix Solutions Inc., and the U.S.-based Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health.

Five samples within 20 kilometres of the spill site were higher than recommended, but Center toxicologist Paul Nony says those spots have been OK since July 24.

"It's been mostly fairly low levels, but just happen to be above those conservative benchmarks. But again, these are sporadic detections that exceeded those benchmarks,'' Nony said in a conference call with media.

Cities shut down drinking supplies

The report also says samples have been within federal guidelines at water intakes for the cities of North Battleford and Prince Albert, which had to shut down their drinking supplies from the river after the spill.

Oil is not normally found in the river and water treatment facilities could be damaged if contaminated by oil. The water treatment plants aren't equipped to deal with hydrocarbons.

The cities have been relying on stored water in reservoirs and building temporary above-ground lines to other water sources.

"We're all wanting to get to the point where the city of North Battleford and the city of Prince Albert can use their filtration systems, can use their intakes off of the river,'' Wall said.

"And we will get there, but we'll get there when it's safe to do so.''

Independent testing

The Saskatchewan Water Security Agency wants to do more independent testing and see a risk analysis done before it gives the go-ahead to draw water from the river again.

Nony says water sampling is ongoing and recommendations regarding the risk of oil affecting river water intakes will be forthcoming as a formal risk assessment is completed.

"We have to consider things such as seasonal changes in the river. A freeze followed by a thaw that could change the dynamics of the river. So there's other things to take into account before we would even make a recommendation, even though that's still up to the water agency,'' he said.

The Ministry of Environment said about 139,000 litres of oil has been recovered so far.

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