Saskatchewan First Nations file lawsuit against energy company over 2016 oil spill

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Two Cree Nations groups in Saskatchewan have filed a lawsuit against Husky Energy for a 2016 pipe break that spilled oil into the North Saskatchewan River.

The James Smith Cree Nation and the Cumberland House Cree Nation allege that some 90,000 litres of oil mixed with distillates spilled into the river. An additional 160,000 litres of oil was spilled, but did not enter the river.

The July spill forced the cities of Prince Albert, North Battleford and Melfort to shut off their water intakes for almost two months. The pipeline was allowed to restart in October after being repaired and inspected.

The total cleanup cost for the spill was estimated to be $107 million.

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It was determined that the pipe break occurred from mechanical cracking in a buckle in the pipeline caused by ground movement. The pipeline was buried near Maidstone, Saskatchewan.

The statement of facts for the lawsuit alleges that Calgary-based Husky failed to inform the community as to when the company would be on reserve land to obtain samples, perform remediation or undertake other activities related to the spill response.

While Husky Energy’s spill report has not yet been released to the public, certain details were shared with media in 2016. Most notably, the pipeline’s dual alarm leak detection system warned of issues the day before the leak was discovered. The detection system continued to issue alarms until it was shut down for scheduled maintenance on the morning of July 21, 2016.

In addition to the lawsuit, Husky Energy also faces a potential fine from the province. The case has undergone two adjournments during 2018, and returns to court again on September 13. Ten charges of violating Saskatchewan and federal environmental laws were laid in March.

Some wildlife was also harmed in the incident.

In 2017, The National Contaminants Advisory Group under Fisheries and Oceans Canada launched an investigation into whether the spill compromised the long-term health of fish in the river by assessing concentrations of oil-related contaminants and indicators of adverse impacts on fish.

“The goal is to determine: how far impacts of the spill have spread along this important river system; how these contaminants move through the food web at a given location; and whether impacts on fish species are evident up to two years after the spill,” states The National Contaminants Advisory Group on its website.

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