The Council of Canadians - Winnipeg Chapter


Pipeline Problems: The Husky Oil Spill Investigation

Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on November 29, 2016 at 1:40 PM


Dennis LeNeveu, a retired biophysicist who is deeply concerned about tar sands and pipeline expansion, is an active member of the Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter. This is the first in a series of blogs by Dennis addressing various issues that are too often overlooked in media coverage of pipelines.



D.M. LeNeveu - 28 November 2106


The Husky Oil accident report of November 17, 2016, attributed the oil spill on the North Saskatchewan River to ground movement following heavy rains. The National Observer reports that the pipeline was built on unstable ground.

The failure was likely due to gradual creep rather than a one time, rare, event as the report claims. It appears that faulty trench infill allowed water to flow down the pipeline trench. Water flowing in the pipeline trench likely contributed to instability, failure and spill movement to the river. Proper maintenance should have prevented water from channelling down the trench and detected the slope movement that led to failure1

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Economy plans to a release its own report on the spill of the provincially regulated Husky oil pipeline. 2

Failure in the thousands of pipelines in Saskatchewan is common.

● In 2011 there were 2,062 oil and gas pipelines and 68,000 flow lines in the province. ( Flow lines are narrow lines which are used to transport oil and gas from the wellhead to storage or other facility.) 3

● There have been 8,360 spills in Saskatchewan since 2006, of which Husky is responsible for 1,463.

● In Alberta, there have been 28,666 crude oil spills in the last 37 years. Cumulative effects from all these pipeline spills would be expected but have not been investigated. 4


Typically, the Saskatchewan provincial government allows the industry to investigate its own spills. The government conducted only 78 provincial investigations in 2015. 5 It is unknown if the provincial government employed independent geotechnical experts to investigate the spill site or if it is primarily relying on information supplied by Husky Oil.

A 2012 report from Saskatchewan's auditor found that while the Ministry of the Economy regulated the construction of new pipelines, it had "no documented processes to regulate existing pipelines." 6

Why was the North Saskatchewan spill not investigated by the NEB and the Transportation Safety Board (TSB)?


The NEB’s main purpose is “to promote safety and security, environmental protection and efficient infrastructure and markets in the Canadian public interest for pipelines that cross international borders or provincial and territorial boundaries.” 7 The TSB is an independent agency that advances transportation safety by investigating occurrences in the marine, pipeline, rail and air modes of transportation. 8


The NEB Act defines a pipeline as:


“a line that is used or to be used for the transmission of oil, gas or any other commodity and that connects a province with any other province or provinces or extends beyond the limits of a province or the offshore area as defined in section 123, and includes all branches, extensions, tanks, reservoirs, storage facilities, pumps, racks, compressors, loading facilities, interstation systems of communication by telephone, telegraph or radio and real and personal property, or immovable and movable, and works connected to them.” 9


The failed Husky Oil line (and other pipelines in the Saskatchewan gathering system) deliver oil to Albertan terminals that supply export pipelines like the proposed Energy East pipeline. The Energy East pipeline will originate from a terminal in Hardisty, Alberta.


The 1.3 km replacement lateral line connecting the Husky Hardisty terminal to the Express Pipelines Hardisty terminal is completely with the province of Alberta. In 2010, Express Pipelines applied for NEB construction approval of the replacement lateral after the previous lateral was abandoned due to severe internal corrosion over the majority of the pipeline's length. 10


Why do not all pipelines that are wholly within provincial boundaries, and that connect to export pipelines (like the Husky lateral connecting to Express) require NEB approval, regulation, hearings, and EA according to the NEB Act?

The Husky heavy oil that spilled into the North Saskatchewan contains up to 5000 ppm deadly toxic and corrosive H2S. 11


Could it be that the original Express Pipeline lateral succumbed to internal corrosion due to the H2S content from the same heavy oil? Would not all export pipelines that carry sour crude oil containing H2S and other corrosive substances be subject to the same risk of internal corrosion and public exposure to deadly toxic fumes upon spillage? The Enbridge mainline and the proposed Energy East would carry these products.


Was the late deployment of booms in the North Saskatchewan oil spill due in part to the toxic H2S content? 12 During the Husky oil spill, there is no indication that toxic fume concentrations such as H2S and benzene were measured near river bank occupation and necessity of evacuation determined. Why not?


River bank instability, a common problem in rivers across the country, has been the cause of numerous pipeline accidents. The 2016 North Saskatchewan spill, the 2015 Yellowstone River spill, 13 the 2012 the Red Deer River spill in Alberta, 14 and the 1996 natural gas explosion on the La Salle River in Manitoba were all caused by river bank instability or river scour. 15


In the Energy East application, monitoring and assessment of bank stability has been documented but no extensive bank stability measures or maintenance have been definitely planned or executed. 16 For instance, riprap laid on the La Salle and Red Rivers in past years is no longer evident.


It is difficult to believe that across the 4600 km length of the Energy East pipeline with hundreds of river crossings that major bank reconstruction and stability measures would not be required or already in place, maintained and independently inspected.


Would not the Husky oil spill experience demonstrate utter failure on the part of the pipeline industry and the regulators to maintain environmental protection and to safeguard drinking water supplies? After completion of the quickly forgotten Husky appeasement report will anything change?


I will discuss the sulphur and H2S problem in sour crude oil carried in pipelines, river bank stability and other aspects of pipeline safety in more detail in future blogs.


Stay tuned.



















Photo by: Paul S. Graham


Categories: No Energy East Pipeline

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1 Comment

Reply Donna Sinclair
8:29 AM on December 6, 2016 
Thanks for this blog. Clear enough for non-scientific types to understand while being substantive and extremely helpful. Educational in the best sense ( and I'm highly motivated, because I'm on the Energy East path!)