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‘We’re deeply sorry:’ Husky fined $3.8M for leak into North Saskatchewan River

Husky Energy was fined $3.8 million for a pipeline oil leak that fouled a major river, harmed fish and wildlife and tainted the drinking water supply for thousands of people in Saskatchewan.

“We recognize that the spill had a significant impact on communities along the North Saskatchewan River and we’re deeply sorry for that,” Duane Rae, the company’s vice-president of pipelines, said outside court in Lloydminster, Sask.

“We’ve been working hard since that day to try to set things right.”

The spill into the North Saskatchewan River in July 2016 forced the cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort to shut off their water intakes for almost two months.

Calgary-based Husky pleaded guilty to three environmental charges: two under federal migratory birds and fisheries legislation and one under a provincial law for releasing a harmful substance.

The federal Crown withdrew seven other charges.

About 225,000 litres of diluted heavy oil spilled from Husky’s pipeline near Maidstone in west-central Saskatchewan. The company said about 40% made it into the river and more than 90% of the oil was recovered.

Provincial court Judge Lorna Dyck accepted a joint recommendation from lawyers on an amount for the fine.

“This case has been a difficult and a challenging one for a number of reasons,” she said in her decision.

She noted that two alarms had gone off but were not recorded or reported to senior staff.

“Once the leak was discovered, Husky acted quickly and properly,” said the judge. “I believe Husky has learned from this mistake.”

“There’s no doubt it has had a detrimental affect on Husky’s reputation and on the industry as a whole,” said Rae. “We have expended a lot of money on the cleanup – over $140 million.”

A victim impact statement filed by three Indigenous communities in the area said the cleanup wasn’t good enough. Chief Wayne Semaganis spoke on behalf of his Little Pine First Nation and also for the Sweetgrass and Red Pheasant bands.

He said birds, wildlife and fish still suffer the effects of the contamination and the First Nations have lost traditional use of their land.

“We no longer fish in the river. We no longer trap on or near reserve lands. We no longer farm on or near reserve lands,” he said. “We no longer drink water drawn from reserve lands.”

Semaganis said the Indigenous communities remain anxious, fearful and psychologically stressed.

The cities of North Battleford and Prince Albert also filed victim impact statements that were read out by the Crown.

“The impact was dire, ongoing and will cause long-lasting changes to procedures and processes,” said the statement from North Battleford’s city manager James Puffalt.

Prince Albert’s statement said the spill caused significant disruption and stress for residents and had considerable costs.

Spray parks were closed at the peak of the summer holidays. Laundromats were shut down. Car washes couldn’t operate and businesses had to close.

“The city was forced to implement its emergency operations centre,” said the statement.

The city also had to lay temporary lines to two nearby rivers for drinking water.

Saskatchewan prosecutor Matthew Miazga told court there has never been an environmental event as significant in the province.

“Literally tens of thousands of people downstream were impacted.”

Environment Canada investigator Jeff Puetz said staff put their full effort into getting information.

“We did search warrants and gathered tens of thousands of copies of documents from Husky in order to get enough evidence,” he said.

The company said the pipeline buckled and leaked because of ground movement.

The line was allowed to reopen in October 2016 after being repaired and inspected.

Husky CEO Rob Peabody noted in a release that the oil and gas producer has been doing business in the Lloydminster region for more than 70 years.

“We understand that some people think we could have done better. After having such a long and successful history in this region, the event three years ago was a disappointment for all of us.”

He added that the company has made improvements that include an updated leak response protocol, regular geotechnical reviews of pipelines and fibre optic sensing technology.

 


Environment groups say oil industry asks will lead to ‘climate chaos’

Several of Canada’s leading environment groups say election demands from Canada’s oil industry earlier this week are a direct attack on the future health and prosperity of Canadians.

The different visions for Canada’s economic and environmental policies are a preview of the federal election campaign to come, in which the fossil-fuel sector and environment groups are expected to play central and conflicting roles.

Environment groups want the federal government to bar new pipelines and slowly wind down production in the oil sector while ramping up investments in and exports of cleaner, renewable energy technologies.

“If our goal is to limit global warming we need to be retiring fossil fuels,” said Dale Marshall, national program manager at Environmental Defence.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers on Monday issued its “election platform,” calling for all parties to come up with a long-term vision for oil and gas that includes displacing foreign imports with Canadian fuels and ramping up production and building pipelines so Canada can export more.

The association’s president Tim McMillan argued Canadian oil is produced with higher environmental standards so it is better for the environment if foreign countries buy and use it rather than the fuels produced in countries with lower standards.

McMillan said emerging markets in India, China and Southeast Asia are increasing demand for fossil fuels and Canada should be ready to fill that need.

More than half a dozen environment groups pushed back Wednesday, urging political parties to reject the petroleum industry’s vision.

Marshall said investing in clean and renewable energy that can be exported will result in the same economic benefits without the accompanying climate harms.

He also said the idea that Canada’s oil is cleaner than others’ is a fallacy and that producing more oil for export is not the responsible way to go.

“I would say straight-up that the agenda put forward in this document by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is a recipe for climate chaos,” said Marshall.

Each side denies favouring any one party. However Marshall acknowledged that climate and environment plans put forward by the Green Party and the NDP “could have been written by the environment community.”

The Liberals and Conservatives haven’t yet released environment platforms for the election, though the Liberals’ carbon price is a central part of their brand.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer promises a major speech on the environment later this month. However much of the vision in the CAPP plan – in particular to expand Canadian exports and replace foreign oil with Canadian production – is directly in line with the vision Scheer put forward in a recent speech on the economy.

Scheer was criticized earlier this year for having a closed-door strategy session with oil executives in Calgary to develop plans to oust the Liberals. McMillan attended that meeting but his presence was downplayed by the organization as part of CAPP’s open strategy to promote Canadian oil and gas.

Marshall said “it’s worrisome” that the Conservatives are so closely tied to the interests of one industry.


Premiers Kenney, Moe to work together on rig rules as they meet in Saskatchewan

Premiers Moe and Kenney.

Premiers Moe and Kenney.

The premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan are pledging to harmonize regulations governing the movement of oil and gas rigs in the two provinces.

Jason Kenney and Scott Moe have signed a memorandum of understanding noting that some commercial trucking rules are not suitable for service rigs, which spend most of the time in a field, not on a road.

The goal is to make it easier for rigs to be moved from job site to job site in both provinces without getting bogged down by two sets of rules.

The agreement was signed as Kenney and Moe appeared together at an oil trade show in Weyburn, Sask.

The two conservative premiers praised the policies of their respective governments, while taking shots at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal carbon tax.

Both heralded their support for pipelines and say they are confident the federal government will approve the stalled construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion by the June 18 deadline.


Legault announces plan to electrify Quebec’s economy, reduce oil consumption

The Quebec government will reduce oil consumption in the province by 40% by 2030 through a vast program to shift transportation systems, buildings and businesses to hydroelectricity, Premier Francois Legault announced Sunday as his party held a general council meeting in Montreal.

Legault said his plan to “electrify Quebec” will require massive investments, which he said could be unlocked by reviewing the management of the government’s Green Fund and by increasing funding for infrastructure planning.

He said that from now on his government will only finance public transit projects that are electric and that are built mostly in Quebec, and will take steps to ensure that all new public buildings be powered by clean energy as of 2020.

“I want that in four years, it will be said that no government has realized as many public transit projects as the Coalition Avenir Quebec government,” Legault said in a speech to 1,300 party members.

Legault said he’s tasked his transport minister with seven different projects, including the expansion of an existing subway line and a light-rail system being built in Montreal, as well as tramway projects for Quebec City and Montreal’s South Shore.

The premier told reporters after the speech that he would look for a way to increase the involvement of local companies in these projects, pointing out that the United States requires 65 to 70% local content.

“We have to see what the laws allow,” he said.

Quebecers who live outside major urban centres and who do not have access to public transportation will benefit from further incentives to buy electric vehicles, he added.

The government estimates that a million electric vehicles could reduce oil consumption by 6%.

Legault said his government would also put incentives in place to encourage owners of residential and commercial properties, as well as those in the industrial and agriculture sectors, to switch from heating oil to hydroelectricity, and called for more innovation and new technologies to aid in the transition.

The premier, who has sought to position Quebec as the “green battery of North America,” also said he was confident he’d be able to reach deals to sell Quebec hydroelectricity to Ontario and New York City.

He said he would offer Ontario “a deal they can’t refuse: cheaper energy and clean energy.”

Last fall, Legault proposed a plan to sell Quebec hydroelectricity to Ontario so the province could avoid costly repairs to its nuclear power plants, but the proposal was rejected by Doug Ford’s government.

 


Green’s call for ban on foreign oil imports, using Alberta oil instead

Green party Leader Elizabeth May says saving the world from climate change requires Canada to get off oil before the middle of the century.

In the meantime, she wants Canada off foreign oil as soon as possible.

The promise to make Canada energy independent is _ perhaps unexpectedly _ in line with the economic and climate strategy of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

Scheer’s plan calls for Canada to import no foreign oil by 2030, partly by planning an energy corridor across Canada that could simplify the construction of pipelines able to move Alberta oil to any coast. He sees it as a way to find additional domestic markets for Canada’s oilsands, in a bid to increase their production.

May’s plan, to “turn off the taps to oil imports” is only a stop-gap measure to keep foreign oil out until Canada can break its oil habit altogether.

By 2050, May wants bitumen to be used in Canada only by the petrochemical industry for plastics, rubber, paint, and other such products.

“As long as we are using fossil fuels we should be using our fossil fuels,” said May.

May’s climate plan is likely to get more scrutiny than its predecessors in past elections.

The Liberals and NDP already proved they are paying close attention to the rising threat of Green support, with both pushing similar motions to declare climate change an emergency in the House of Commons earlier this month. Both motions were tabled less than a week after the Greens elected a second MP in a Vancouver Island byelection, and not long after a provincial wing of the party formed the official opposition in Prince Edward Island.

May said she’s perfectly fine with Green popularity pushing other parties to raise their games on climate. While both the Liberals and NDP claimed their motions had been in the works before the byelection result, May said there is no doubt in her mind that Paul Manly’s winning and the NDP and Liberals finishing distantly third and fourth, “had almost everything to do with” the motions.

The NDP motion failed because it called for Canada to drop plans to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline, a pipeline May also opposes. The Liberal motion hasn’t yet gone to a vote.

The Green climate plan also calls for Canada to double its cuts to greenhouse- gas emissions by 2030 and get emissions to zero by 2050. That plan includes no longer selling combustion-engine cars after 2030 and replacing all existing combustion-engine vehicles by 2040.

Canada imports about a million barrels of oil a day and produces four times that much. In 2017, Canada produced 4.2 million barrels of oil, and exported 3.3 million of those. Domestic refineries handled 1.8 million barrels.

Canada’s oil producers already pump enough product to meet domestic demand but there are two problems: there is no pipeline from the oil-rich west to refineries in the east, and even if there were, those refineries aren’t equipped to handle the heavier bitumen that is the Alberta oilsands’ trademark.

For Canadian refineries in the east, bitumen from the oilsands must be upgraded to synthetic crude. May’s plan is to invest in upgraders to do it.

She acknowledges weaning Canada off foreign oil won’t happen overnight, given existing contracts Canadian refineries have and figuring out how to build the upgraders and then ship the product.

Privately, Liberal government critics suggest there is no way to have Canada’s east coast use Canadian oil without building a new pipeline to get the products there. May does not support a new pipeline anywhere, and argues the raw bitumen could be transferred by rail as long as Canada invests more in its rail services.

The proposed Energy East pipeline to carry diluted bitumen to the east coast fell apart in 2017 amid significant opposition in Quebec, opposition that continues under the new Coalition Avenir Quebec government.

Scheer’s plan is to establish an energy corridor that would allow an Energy East-like pipeline to proceed alongside interprovincial electricity grids, with only one right-of-way required.

May said the Greens are the “only party that have a plan that allows human civilization to survive.”

“It’s not a Canadian lifestyle choice,” she said. “All of humanity is at risk.”

 


Canada banning oil, gas and mining from marine protected areas

The oil and gas industry has worn out its welcome in Canadian marine conservation areas. Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced a total ban on oil and gas work, as well as mining, waste-dumping and bottom-trawling, in all of Canada’s marine protected areas. Wilkinson was at an international nature summit in Montreal where Canada is pushing other countries to do more to protect the global environment.

The changes apply recommendations made last fall by a panel the government asked to provide advice on the best way to improve standards in marine protected areas. The ban on industrial activities brings Canada up to international standards recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The bans apply only to marine protected areas, which are specific areas within bodies of water that are granted protected status by federal, provincial or territorial governments. Until now, activities like oil and gas exploration and exploitation were only banned in these areas on a case-by-case basis.

Marine refuges, which are more numerous areas where governments impose fisheries closures often to protect just a single species, will still allow oil and gas operations.

The ones that do will not be counted towards Canada’s commitment to protect 10 per cent of the country’s marine and coastal areas by 2020.

Canada had hit nearly eight per cent by the end of 2018, but more than half of that amount is marine refuges. It’s not clear yet what effect discounting refuges that are still open to oil and gas work will have on the total.

The World Wildlife Federation of Canada said last fall it was concerned about the exemption for marine refuges.

Oceana Canada, a charity devoted to protecting ocean life, also raised concerns that four months after Canada named the Northeast Newfoundland Slope Conservation Area — a 47,000-square-kilometre section of the Atlantic Ocean — as a marine refuge in 2017, it agreed to allow oil and gas exploration in the same area. That decision also angered local fishers since the designation barred all fishing in the name of environmental protection.