Premier Brad Wall says his top concern right now is making sure communities affected by an oil spill have enough drinking water and the wider debate over pipelines can wait.
“We need to make sure that drinking water is available, that potable water is available to communities affected by this. That’s the first challenge,” he said Wednesday in Regina.
“We’ll get into the debate on pipelines versus rail or how we move oil across this country at a later date, but for now I think we should just set it aside.”
A Husky Energy pipeline last week spilled between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of oil into the North Saskatchewan River.
The slick has already hit the cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort, where water intakes have been shut down and measures to conserve drinking water have been put in place.
An incident report filed by Husky on Tuesday said a leak was discovered around 8 p.m. on July 20, a day earlier than initially believed.
The company later clarified it was alerted to “pressure anomalies” that evening, but it did not confirm there had been a leak until the next morning.
It began shutting down the line around 6 a.m. last Thursday and informed the Saskatchewan government around 10:30 a.m.
Wall noted Husky has said it will review what happened and why there was a delay, but added the company’s response to the spill itself appears to have followed protocol.
He also said he expects Husky to live up to its promise to cover the costs of cleanup — and more.
Car washes and laundromats, for example, have had to shut down as communities conserve water.
Wall was planning to visit the affected area on Thursday.
But local officials, saying they wanted to focus on their response efforts, asked the premier to wait until later.
NDP Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon calls the spill devastating for the environment.
Wotherspoon says the whole situation could have been better handled by Premier Brad Wall.
Wotherspoon says Wall waited too long before coming forward and updating the province properly on the issues facing the affected communities.
First Nation leaders are also worried about how the Husky Energy oil pipeline spill will affect their people and wildlife in and around the North Saskatchewan River.
Chief Crystal Okemow of the Lucky Man Cree says First Nations need to be part of the monitoring and regulating of the oil industry.
She says the pipeline breach that spilled up to 250,000 litres of oil may have been avoided if First Nations had a greater say on the location of pipelines.
Sweetgrass First Nation Chief Lorie Whitecalf says people who live off the land will feel the effects of the oil spill the most.
Chief Kenny Moccasin of the Saulteaux First Nation says many of his people hunt and pick berries along the river.
He says some members of the band are talking about staging a protest against Husky Energy over the spill.
The oil sheen has been dispersing as it moves downstream, which makes it more difficult to skim it off the surface, said Wes Kotyk with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment.
Nine booms have been placed on the river where they’re believed to be most helpful, but their performance is in question.
“They’re likely not going to be very effective in accumulating or collecting any of the material once the sheen gets that thin.”
Some of the oil has sunk, but it’s not clear how much.
There is no plan yet to clean up the below-surface oil because not enough is known about how the heavy conventional crude reacts in water.
Samples have been sent for analysis and Husky has been helpful in providing its own chemical tests, said Lo Cheng, with the federal Environment and Climate Change Department.
Sam Ferris of Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency said North Battleford should have enough water in its reservoirs if it continues its conservation efforts and there is no major event, such as a major fire, to deplete the supply.
One other option being considered is to pre-treat the oil-tainted river water before it enters the plant.
In Prince Albert, the city manager said a temporary pipeline that was to be completed on Wednesday to bolster the city’s water supply wouldn’t be done until Friday.
The line — essentially a giant hose — is to run about 30 kilometres to the South Saskatchewan River, but Jim Toye said pumps to move the water were not ready.
(With files from The Canadian Press, CJWW)