Husky Energy Inc crews worked on Friday to clean-up an oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River, a government official said, with efforts focused on ensuring it does not contaminate the drinking water of communities downstream.

The company said late on Thursday it shut and isolated a pipeline on its Saskatchewan Gathering System, after roughly 200,000 to 250,000 liters (1,258 to 1,572 barrels) of heavy oil and diluent spilled from the line, running into the North Saskatchewan River.

“I distinguish between the media reaction and the public reaction, but as far as we are concerned we just focused on getting on with the job,” Husky Energy CEO Asim Ghosh told BNN in a conference call Friday morning. 

Embedded Image
North Saskatchewan River, BNN

The Saskatchewan government said it had dispatched an environmental protection officer to the site and was working with Husky to notify downstream users of the river.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told reporters in Whitehorse Friday that despite the spill, pipelines are still a safe way to move oil. 

“Although pipelines remain imperfect in terms of a conveyance for our oil they are still the safest way to move oil,” Wall said. “We are about 4.5 times more likely to have a spill from oil on a rail car than on a pipeline.”

twitter embed

The city of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, draws some of its drinking water from the river. Officials said they planned to shut supply intakes if the oil spill reached the community of 14,000 people, which could happen as early as Friday.

Residents would then be able to rely on treated well water, said Mayor Ian Hamilton.

"We're going to be able to ensure our residents of safe water throughout this incident," he said in an interview.

Hamilton said he planned to speak with Husky about preventing future spills, adding that he was more concerned about damage to the environment.

Embedded Image
Map of affected areas from Husky's oil spill, BNN

The Saskatchewan Gathering System runs from Husky's heavy oil operations east of Lloydminster to the company's facilities in that city, where the oil is upgraded, used in asphalt or shipped on to the oil sands hub of Hardisty, Alberta.

The North Saskatchewan River is a major tributary to the Saskatchewan River, which flows east across Saskatchewan and Manitoba into Lake Winnipeg.

Separately, Suncor Energy Inc said it responded to a notification on Friday from its detection system of a potential leak at its oil sands base plant in neighboring Alberta, but that there was no impact on operations.

Last year, a pipeline owned by Nexen Energy ULC  leaked 35,000 barrels of emulsion - a mixture of bitumen, water and sand - in Alberta in one of North America's largest-ever oil-related spills on land.

Earlier on Friday, Husky posted a smaller-than-expected loss as the focus on fewer, more efficient resource plays helped reduce production costs.   

--With files from BNN