The last seven months – July 2016 – January 2017 – has seen two major oil spills in Saskatchewan. This has prompted important reactions about the safety of pipelines both existing and in development. It has galvanized communities to take action against the pipeline dependence that is destroying environments and clean water sources for many communities.
Shortly after the disastrous Husky spill on the North Saskatchewan River, Canoe Lake Indigenous Environmental activist leader Emil Bell went on a hunger strike demanding accountability from Husky and the Saskatchewan government, and a true record of what happened with the Husky spill.
Emil Bell’s hunger strike lead to various actions against Husky. The Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network was formed linking Indigenous and non Indigenous communities in opposition to the damage to critical water sources in Saskatchewan.
Tyrone Tootoosis, spokesperson for the Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network said, “water is life, people and communities want to know how to avoid these disastrous spills and who is accountable and responsible for what has happened.
We need to understand that this Husky catastrophe could happen to any body of water and we need citizen oversight on what the oil companies and the governments are doing. Water, the environment, and communities are too precious to have their interests subordinated to the interests of oil companies”, said Tyrone Tootoosis.
Indigenous communities along the Saskatchewan River System which falls within Treaty 6 territory took action.
“Due to the slow response by Husky and lack of transparency during the containment and cleanup process, the James Smith Cree Nation has decided to take its own mitigation measures and conduct its own sampling. They have expressed that their way of life has been impacted by the spill and that contaminants have been found in lake sturgeon spawning grounds. As a Sovereign Nation, we have taken it upon ourselves to take action and clean our river.” -James Smith Cree Nation (www.jamessmithcreenation.com).
Because of the lack of information or analysis coming from Husky and the Wall government an Independent Water Study was carried out in August by E Tech International Hydrologist Richardo Segovia. The study was supported by Idle No More, Public Service Alliance of Canada (Prairie Region) and the Council of Canadians.
Richardo Segovia’s team spent four days travelling the length of the spill along the North Saskatchewan River, speaking with residents, and collecting some sediment samples at strategic locations.
The study questioned the delayed response which resulted in the spilled oil going 500 kilometers downstream to Cumberland Lake contaminating drinking water for communities from North Battleford, Prince Albert, James Smith First Nation, Nipawin. (Months later Husky has given no adequate explanation for a 14 hour delay dealing with the oil spill.)
Richardo Segovia’s work pointed out, “Husky has not been open with technical information during the spill response. Despite the fact that they have taken thousands of water samples, the public still has not had access to any of the lab results. Instead, residents have had to trust Husky’s own summaries of exceedances of allowable contaminant limits and cleanup efforts. They have not taken any samples beyond Prince Albert, about 375 km downstream, even though contamination has been reported more than 500 km downstream.”
The Independent Water Study also states, “one major flaw in Husky’s sampling program is that they are only analyzing water. The separation of diluted crude into its lighter and heavier components causes some of the contaminants to end up attached to suspended river sediments and deposited on the river bottom, especially as time goes on. Husky is missing a major part of the contamination in not sampling sediments and could be leaving behind a toxic legacy for years to come.”
In a public statement E-Tech hydrogeologist Ricardo Segovia, warned that the hydrocarbons detected in sediment along the river are “very, very nasty” and could persist for years. He says, “You can’t go back to the way things were before … because there’s that chance that (contaminants) can be stirred up from the sediments, you have to be constantly monitoring those water intakes for the next several years at least.”
Although this study was conducted last summer it leaves some disturbing questions such as the long term effect of the oil in the sediment, how far the oil has travelled down the Saskatchewan River, and the release of hydro carbons from the spill affecting wild life and human communities.
On September 18th the Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network organized a Rally for Water in Saskatoon that had hundreds in attendance. Guest speakers included David Suzuki, Water for Life leader Christi Belcourt, Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, Ricardo Segovia.
Demands made at the Rally for Water included:
- Respect and adhere to rights and obligations of water use and flow on Indigenous lands and territories.
- Conduct a public Independent Inquiry into the Husky oil disaster.
- Do an Independent Audit on the real costs of the Husky Disaster – now and future costs.
- Establish an arms length independent watch dog to monitor and report on the safety to the public of oil pipe lines, oil wells and fracking in Saskatchewan.
- Demand that the government of Saskatchewan introduce the strongest environmental safety regulations and regulatory power over the extraction and movement of resources such as oil.
- Support and encourage the abilities and resources of communities to do their own assessments of water quality and preserving clean water sources.
- Build alliances for safe, clean water and water preservation community to community.
- Turn Saskatchewan from a petro-state to one of renewable energy use.
Subsequent to these calls for action the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) in December 2016 called for an independent third party investigation that would take the form of a public inquiry. It would look at the actions of Husky and the provincial government as well as the broad environmental implications of the spill and its effects on local communities and First Nations. SES also called on the provincial government for more stringent safeguards, including environmental oversight, better inspection and emergency protocols, and more modern spill detection equipment.
In this same month the Wall government refused the request of the Privacy Commissioner for information on five years of pipeline inspections.
In January 2017 the next great oil spill took place of 200,000 litres on the Ocean Man First Nation Land. Undetected for days from a 49 year old pipe line that had never been inspected, and only discovered by a smell. The government was extremely slow in making it public – a three day delay.
With the planned announcement of moving the Enbridge Line 3 across southern Saskatchewan these spills and cover ups by oil companies and the provincial government show how threatening the pipelines will be to communities and the environment.
Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network has called for intervention from outside this province for a probe on the oil spills and most importantly how communities can be defended. An alliance – inside and outside of Saskatchewan – demanding to know what has happened and will happen in Saskatchewan will be critical in withstanding the heavy pressure for pipelines across Canada. Such an alliance would have its base water for life and link Indigenous and non Indigenous communities and would be a strong potent for resistance and change to a non fossil fuel based economy and society.
Don Kossick, member, Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network