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A natural treasure tarnished

Dear Editor As it now stands, we need oil, gas and pipelines. But, as the Husky Energy North Saskatchewan River oil spill has clearly illustrated, it must be done right and if it isn't, it's a disaster.

Dear Editor

As it now stands, we need oil, gas and pipelines. But, as the Husky Energy North Saskatchewan River oil spill has clearly illustrated, it must be done right and if it isn't, it's a disaster. 

The spill inflicted major environmental damage upon the North Saskatchewan River and surrounding area. Much of it long lasting, some of it permanent. Don't let anyone try to tell you the spill was not a major negative event. It was. 

Tests show river bottom sediments badly polluted with hydrocarbons. It's not fully known how the water column has been affected. Cleanup efforts caused damage that will take years to remediate. Access roads were pushed through the bush immediately adjacent to the river. Large quantities of oil soaked river grass had to be removed. Oil soaked riverbank soils had to be removed and/or disturbed. 

Although haphazard and unprofessional, mortality counts show not a single species of bird, mammal, invertebrate or fish escaped negative impact. Beavers were especially hard hit. Oil stained White American pelicans could be seen on the river days after the spill. Bottom feeders such as mud suckers were badly impacted.

Like so much else, nobody knows how the spill affected the small and fragile freshwater sturgeon population. How many oil stained birds flew off to die, unrecorded? How many oil soaked mammals crawled into the bush to die? Minnows, tomorrow's fish and today's food base, perished and floated downstream unseen, uncounted. And what was the true effect on crustaceans? 

Professionals are concerned fish and other aquatic life may have migrated from heavily polluted areas of the river leaving "dead zones." And on and on it goes. It will be generations before the North Saskatchewan River completely recovers, if ever.

There is so much, nobody knows. In so many instances, it's nothing more than a good guess. Nobody really knows what happened to the freshwater sturgeon and other aquatic life. What will the long-term effects be? What will the spring break up bring? People are worried. They don't know what to do about hydrocarbon polluted bottom sediments. Will they move around creating new problems? The final high water event deposited river silt on top of the oil that remained on the riverbank. Will that complicate cleanup efforts in the spring? And on and on it goes.

There is still much to be cleaned up and/or remediated, some never will be. Husky Energy and the provincial government were ill prepared to handle the oil spill, they were overwhelmed, and still are in many instances. They looked for a precedent to assist in their efforts. They couldn't find one.

The Husky Energy North Saskatchewan River oil spill also had very serious social implications for the people of Saskatchewan, especially those living along the river. Their quality of life was diminished. The confidence in their water supply significantly reduced. Many were left with no water at all. Human recreational activity connected to the North Saskatchewan River will never be the same. Additional water testing will be required for decades to come.

However, there were a couple aspects of the oil spill Husky Energy and the provincial government nailed. Those being the suppression of information to the public and the down playing of the event. They are inextricably linked. One example would be the fact the media was not allowed to file one story directly from the main cleanup site located between the oil's point of entry into the river and the Highway 21 bridge north of Maidstone. Not one. They denied access to the site. That is absolutely ridiculous. It is also an assault on our democracy.

The Brad Wall government will be releasing their report on spill in a couple months. To properly take into consideration planning and operating negligence, extensive environmental and social damage and the need for "deterrence," Husky Energy must be subject to significant monetary penalties.

Going forward there must be additional environmental protection provisions applied. Omitted in the original process, a full environmental impact assessment must be carried out on the west and east Husky Energy pipelines crossing the North Saskatchewan River north of Maidstone. Only then will proper due diligence be completed. Anything less will be considered bad business. The fact of the matter is, if a full and proper EIA would have been carried out in the first place, Husky Energy and the provincial government would not have been so overwhelmed with the Husky Energy North Saskatchewan River oil spill.

Husky Energy and the Government of Saskatchewan must be made to fully accommodate the media in the future, insuring a well-informed public and a fully functioning and healthy democracy. Husky Energy and the government were absolutely negligent in making sure the public was properly informed in regards to the 2016 Husky Energy North Saskatchewan River oil spill. Our journalists must be allowed to do their work in the future. They are the final defence of our democracy.

Morice Miller