Saskatchewan to strengthen pipeline regulations following Husky spill

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Saskatchewan Energy and Resources Minister Dustin Duncan announced on March 23, 2017 that the Ministry of the Economy completed its investigation of the Husky pipeline incident on July 21, 2016.  The findings of this investigation have been provided to the Ministry of Justice.

“Since the Husky spill in July, we’ve recognized that we need to do better when it comes to preventing incidents,” Duncan said.  “The changes announced today will help ensure that workers and the environment are well protected moving forward.”

Though the final report has been provided to the Ministry of Justice, and cannot be released at this time, a statement of substantive findings of the investigation has been provided:

  • The cause of the pipeline break was due to mechanical cracking in a buckle in the pipeline.
  • The buckle was caused by ground movement on the slope which occurred over many years.  The investigators have concluded that the slope movement was not a sudden, one-time event.
  • The volume of spilled material is approximately 225 cubic metres of oil blended with distillates.

The Ministry of the Economy estimates that roughly 60 per cent was contained or recovered on land prior to the point of entry into the river.  The released volume was independently calculated by the investigators.  This volume calculation will continue to guide the provincial response and monitoring of the clean-up.

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According to the Ministry, the timeline surrounding the occurrence and reporting of the pipeline failure is as follows:

  • Based on an analysis of the operating data, the investigators have concluded that the leak began on July 20, the day before the discovery of the spill.
  • The pipeline’s dual alarm leak detection systems were issuing notices to the operators of potential problems prior to the spill and continued until the system was shut down for scheduled maintenance at 7:15 a.m. on July 21.
  • Husky’s response to the alarms has been extensively investigated and the details concerning their reasons for not shutting down the system are being reviewed by the Ministry of Justice.
  • The Government of Saskatchewan was first notified of the spill when a member of the public reported an oil slick on the river near the Tobey Nollet Bridge. This call was received at approximately 8:30 a.m.  After obtaining additional information from the caller, two staff members from the Ministry of the Economy’s field office in Lloydminster were dispatched to the bridge at approximately 8:40 a.m. to investigate the source of the spill.  They arrived on site at approximately 9:35 a.m. and confirmed there was a significant amount of oil on the river. The source of the oil was not immediately known and staff began a search of the area.
  • Ministry staff also contacted Husky at 9:50 a.m. to advise it of the incident and ask if they had any knowledge of the spill.  Husky confirmed that it had also received a report of oil on the river and staff were also looking for potential sources.
  • At 10 a.m. Husky contacted the Ministry of the Economy to confirm the location of the incident at its crossing upstream of the bridge.
  • The broader, multi-agency provincial response was activated at that point with the Ministry of Environment formally assuming overall provincial lead for the response in accordance with long-standing procedures for substantive discharges impacting water bodies.  The Ministry of the Economy staff shifted their focus to the immediate clean-up of oil on the right of way and the investigation of the cause of the break.

The ministry said it is taking steps to improve regulations, based on the report’s findings. These steps include:

  • The Pipelines Amendment Act, 2016 (Bill 43) will be passed by the end of spring session, which will provide the foundation for strengthening regulatory requirements for pipelines.  These changes are broad-based and will address a variety of gaps in the current legislative framework.
  • The Ministry of the Economy will immediately begin work on a compliance audit of the integrity management programs of companies that operate pipelines across major water crossings.  This work will build off the inspections conducted last year but will include a review of corporate oversight of these programs.
  •  Ministry of the Economy will be working with key stakeholders and third-party experts to develop appropriate regulatory standards for water crossings.  The Husky investigations have determined that current regulatory standards and integrity management practices need to be strengthened to fully address the types of risks associated with these locations (slope movement in particular).
  •  Ministry of the Economy will also be reviewing the design of legacy water crossings to determine whether additional measures may be needed to manage geotechnical risk. The Husky pipeline was built in 1997 based on the engineering standards of the time.  Economy will be working to ensure that any deficiencies in these older designs are addressed by operators in terms of the integrity management practices or new mitigation measures.

While the technical review—conducted in partnership between the Ministries of the Economy, Environment, and the Water Security Agency, with the support of Skystone International,—is complete, the full report will be released once all prosecution processes and any appeals have been concluded.

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