PHOTOS: Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall speaking with reporters in the halls of Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina yesterday (screen grab from the CBC’s feed). Below: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and the city of Prince Albert on the bank of the North Saskatchewan River.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s lame defence yesterday morning of his strange inaction after the Prince Albert oil pipeline rupture on July 20 was an example of what’s colloquially known as being “a day late and a dollar short.”

If Saskatchewan’s premier is the ideal spokesperson for Western Canada’s energy industry, as Alberta’s Wall-smacked conservatives keep insisting, we’re in big, big trouble that will result us never getting another pipeline to foreign markets built in this country.

So if you’re a supporter of the energy industry – one of those guys who goes around in a black “I [HEART] Oil Sands” T-shirt – you’d better get down on your knees and pray for the re-election of Rachel Notley and the NDP you’ve been working so hard to unseat.

I admit I’m trying to get up the noses of Alberta’s right-wingers when I say this – but I’m not just trying to get up their noses.

Mr. Wall and other supporters of pipeline construction – and that would include Ms. Notley, the New Democratic Party premier of Alberta – are right when they say pipelines are the safest way to move petroleum products over long distances, especially when the only practical alternatives are rail and diesel trucks.

But it’s hard to blame residents of provinces like British Columbia and Quebec for having grave reservations just the same when the country’s self-appointed No. 1 pipeline spokesperson’s reaction to a 250,000-litre spill of oil and solvent into the North Saskatchewan River near Prince Albert, imperilling safe water supplies for Saskatchewan’s third-largest city and numerous other communities nearby, was to disappear from sight for a week and then refuse to discuss the environmental impact of the disaster when he finally appeared at the Legislature in Regina to chit-chat about it.

“This is not an optimal situation,” Mr. Wall informed a polite group of local journos as they gently tossed him a few softballs before he strode off to his office. Well, gee, Premier, thanks for that data!

Right now, he told the mild-mannered reporters, Job. No. 1 is getting clean water to the north-central Saskatchewan communities that don’t have it thanks to the big hole in Calgary-based Husky Energy Inc.’s pipeline. We’ll study the environmental impacts later, thank you very much – and study them, and study them, so don’t expect any meaningful information any time in this geological era.

“We’ll get into the debate about pipelines,” he said yesterday … “at a later date.”

Mr. Wall was also quick to say Husky has promised to pay the entire cost of the spill, but if there were any questions about how those costs would be calculated on the CBC’s live feed of the brief hallway scrum he deigned to hold, they weren’t evident at this end of the wire in Edmonton.

According to the CBC’s online report yesterday afternoon, Mr. Wall was “reluctant to deal with that topic right now, out of concern the media will emphasize only that aspect of his remarks.” That may have been true enough, but it’s a disgrace the Saskatchewan Legislative Press Gallery just let that weak excuse slide.

As for Husky’s conduct, “I can’t put my finger on some egregious error or misjudgment that I would say they made or that officials are telling me they made,” the Saskatchewan premier also told the respectful flatlands scribes. Aside, I guess, from actually bothering to turn off the flow of oil and solvents when company officials encountered indications they might have had a problem, instead of just letting it pump on into the river for another 14 hours.

In case Mr. Wall and some of you missed it, this level of environmental responsibility is exactly why residents in other parts of Canada don’t trust Prairie pipeline advocates to deliver on their frequent pledges of tough standards, constant scrutiny and vigilant concern for the environment.

Despite Mr. Wall’s claim Saskatchewan’s environment “is precious to all of us,” what actual evidence is there in his actions and inaction that would make anyone think it’s so?

Residents of the provinces who are being asked to bear the risks and get none of the rewards of pipelines legitimately fear that if there’s a breach, nothing will happen while the pollution pulses out of the pipe and into the river or the sea. They also suspect that in the event of another rupture, conservative politicians in the oil producing regions – and heaven knows, we pray it’s just the conservative ones – will obfuscate, stall and pretend no one’s at fault.

So if you were looking for a formula to guarantee no more pipelines get built in this country, Mr. Wall’s would be the best possible. Because whatever you say about the disadvantages of rail cars and big trucks, once a pipeline gets built in someone’s back yard, there’s nothing they can do to make it go away. Ever.

The Saskatchewan premier’s performance yesterday illustrates why Brad Wall is the worst possible spokesperson for pipelines and the worst possible example for Alberta’s conservatives if they are serious about getting this province’s oil to foreign markets through the jurisdictions that surround us on all sides – especially while oil prices continue to languish in the sub-sub-basement.

There is only one approach to building more Canadian pipelines that has any chance of succeeding – and it’s far from guaranteed – and that’s the effort to win social license being made by Ms. Notley’s NDP government.

You can say it ain’t so, you can be as rude as you like about it, and you can praise Mr. Wall’s performance to the skies if you wish, but you’re only deluding yourself. Canadians outside this region are not fooled.

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  1. This is so true. It reminds me of Stephen Harper and his unconditional support of pipelines. I don’t think it ever occurred to him the whole time he was doing everything he could to promote them that at the same time he was undermining the public’s confidence that the government would stand up to a pipeline company if standards were compromised.

    The only way the public will gain confidence in a pipeline is if we have a government that is NOT a pipeline company’s friend.

    1. In my opinion the whole ‘pipeline’ debate is a chimera. You want to return to the stone age, stop pumping oil. The community you are in will be eating dog for a couple of weeks, then proceed to cannibalism.

      1. Courage man! In the 1920s prairie Canada produced 40% of the wheat traded in the whole world using horses, coal trains, and ships. The diesel used now to grow a bushel of wheat is half what it was 30 years ago (that darn socialist plant breeding just keeps improving yields).

        Given that over one-third of food is wasted I’m pretty sure the whole planet can still eat without having another pipeline out of Alberta.

        Speaking of pipelines, who owns them and why are they being allowed to strangle oil and gas producers? Didn’t Lougheed fix the same problem for natural gas producers’ decades ago through regulation?

      2. Dear Alberta Rush: Since over 80% of the population live in the cities, perhaps putting them all on public transit would make the oil last a lot longer – say by decades if not centuries if you count the tar sands.

        We need an LRT between Edmonton and Calgary (not a wasteful bullet train BTW). More rail freight and could the cities please get over their LRT fixation and put the electric street cars back in? How many hundres of miles of street car track could you put in for 20 miles of LRT for example?

        Of couse it is not the oil running out I’m worried about, it is the jobs punching thousands of holes in the ground every year that have run out which is the real problem for so many of my friends and neighbours. Time to get them building street car tracks, new rail lines and other sustainable things.

        How about doing what California did to get both the aerospace and computer industry – make post secondary education and training free. Worked just fine for them – especially with all that military socialism that underwrote both sectors (thank you Regan’s Star Wars for my cheap computer!)

        There should be lots of good sustainable jobs for everyone if we do the proper planning.

  2. And we all need to keep in mind that our fellow Canadians who have concerns for their province’s water systems, have learned from the 2010 Enbridge dilbit spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo river that AB’s bitumen/dilbit/ ‘heavy’ oil tends to sink, and stick, making clean-up much more difficult than conventional oil spills.


    excerpt: “The Kalamazoo River still isn’t clean,” Anthony Swift, who directs the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada Project, told OnEarth magazine. “The EPA reached a point where additional cleanup might do more harm than good. Much of the river is still contaminated.”

    Kalamazoo excerpt: ‘was like roofing tar’

    excerpt: And in Kalamazoo it wasn’t just that the bitumen sank, but the way it adhered to plants and surfaces and didn’t come off.

    “We had to remove all of the vegetation along the stream bank because that oil would not come off,” Powell explained. He later said that they would, “Pressure wash rocks with it directly on the rocks and we couldn’t break that oil loose once it adhered to the rock.” At one point he stated, “it was like roofing tar.”

    1. re: AB oil that sinks; a not so reassuring cleaning update from SK Environment dept.:

      excerpt: 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.”

      excerpt: “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.”

      1. Well if this actually is the case, good news for the river.
        … wait to hear from Env Canada though to confirm’s Husky’s story.

        excerpt: ‘Oil is floating

        According to Owens, the product that leaked is a floating oil and there was no information indicating that any oil was on the river bed.

        “None of the samples that have been collected and analysed so far show any oil in the river sediments on the bottom,” he said.’

  3. Brad Wall could have started slamming the Husky spill but he has a few corporate interests to retain and more to attract to Saskatchewan. I wouldn’t cut him much slack either, but I understand his mien. He means business for Saskatchewan.

  4. From B.C., agree entirely. We have said for years that Alberta knocking B.C., calling us eco terrorists, dippers and a few other denigrating names, does little to promote the pipe. I’m sure Quebec see’s it the same way. Notley has the best chance of any one in getting the eastern pipeline approved from Quebecers and most certainly an approval for one of the pipes in B.C. If the conservatives were in power, either federally or provincially in Alberta, our skin would harden again and there would be no chance of any pipe.

  5. .. at what point does mainstream media, regulatory bodies, governments, voters, citizens start looking at Saskatchewan’s almost 100,000 active, dead, sealed due to sour gas, or steadily leaking methane, boron, radium etc.. ?

    .. at what point do all those same stakeholders begin to consider all the ancillary infrastructure such as water pipelines, diluent pipelines, gathering pipes and pump stations involved in supporting the actual drilling pads or functioning wells.. ?

    .. there was a reason Stephen Harper attacked our Environment, Species, Habitat protections.. and it was a shortsighted Monarchist Hudson Bay Company mentality.. akin to the historic trade in beaver furs and other pelts.. resource extraction uber alles ..

    .. the entire ‘economic’ premise of feeding Asia’s Economies & Industry defies reason. That does not make Canada ‘energy secure’ .. instead it implies we will poison our own water, air, lands, species, people.. permanently.. to ‘grow our economy’ …

    1. Between what the oilfield spills out of pipelines in Saskatchewan and what Brad Wall spills out of his mouth across this country, the track record from these nasty spills are definitely having a detrimental result on the chances of more pipelines being built.

  6. Some new information, including that no environmental assessment was done for the pipeline going under the river

    and David Schindler

    “”One [thing] that’s never mentioned, is what happens if we have a spill under ice. That river is under ice for five months of the year. As far as I know, we don’t even know how to get at a spill under ice let alone remove it.”

  7. “Our audit concluded that for the year ended October 31, 2011, the Ministry (of Energy and Resources, now Economy) did not have effective processes to ensure full compliance with The Pipelines Act, 1998 and The Pipelines Regulations, 2000. There are requirements under this legislation that are not being acted upon. Failure to regulate pipelines effectively could harm people or the environment.”

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