As tension grows over pipeline construction in the U.S., Canadians are experiencing the risks firsthand. A Tundra Energy pipeline in Saskatchewan burst several days ago and leaked more than 50,000 gallons of oil into land belonging to Ocean Man First Nation. The leak went unnoticed until a band member reported the strong oil smell. This raises the question… What are energy companies doing to prevent these leaks? In this case, not much.
Because oil pipelines are so common in Saskatchewan, it took officials several days to pinpoint the source of the leak. This raised many eyebrows among environmentalists, who criticized the slow response and lack of communication.
On Wednesday, it was confirmed that the pipe at fault was made by Tundra Energy. Although clean up efforts were delayed by the initial confusion, the company has recovered more than 45,000 gallons.
On Thursday, the Saskatchewan government investigated the incident and found a small hole in the welding connecting two pipes. The pipeline was not registered when it was built in 1968, so there are no records of official inspections. This is because of a legal loophole that allows shorter pipelines to remain unregistered. According to the investigation, there is no evidence of ground disturbance as a possible cause of the leak.
The Ocean Man First Nation is one of many indigenous groups that have been affected by pipelines. Since the spill, band members have been concerned about the future of the land and have been consulted by other tribes who have experienced oil spills. While speaking to CBC News Saskatchewan, Chief Connie Big Eagle cautioned that no area is immune to disaster:
“It could happen anywhere. Sadly, it happened on Ocean Man First Nation.”
This is not the first pipeline-related incident that Saskatchewan has seen. In July, a pipeline made by Husky Energy leaked, causing two nearby cities to temporarily lose access to their water supply. Although the company has claimed it is not at fault for the spill, Husky has since vowed to conduct more thorough investigations before constructing new pipelines.
Despite the clear environmental threat posed by oil pipelines, the Canadian government has approved construction on a new one between the Alberta oil sands and the Pacific Coast. The controversial plan comes from Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in America. In addition to this new construction, there are also plans to replace sections of a line between Alberta and Wisconsin.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this about the incident in Saskatchewan:
“I think this highlights the expectation that Canadians have that while we grow the economy, while we create good jobs, we also are responsible and mindful of the impact on the environment, that we expect high standards of response to accidents but we also do a better job of being proactive on ensuring that our communities and our land is safe and protected.”
Although most of the oil has been recovered, officials aren’t sure about the long-term effects of the spill. Perhaps costly episodes like this will teach lawmakers to value this planet soon-while we still have one.