Pipelines and Indigenous Jurisdiction: Husky Energy oil spill

Left to right, Little Pine Chief Wayne Semaganis, Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, PAGC Vice Chief Brian Hardlotte, FSIN Vice Chief E. Dutch Lerat, PAGC Grand Chief Ron Michel. Photo credit: Treaty 4 News - http://treaty4news.com/2016/07/fsin-wants-first-nations-included-in-oil-spill-response/

Left to right, Little Pine Chief Wayne Semaganis, Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Vice Chief Joseph Tsannie, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, PAGC Vice Chief Brian Hardlotte, FSIN Vice Chief E. Dutch Lerat, PAGC Grand Chief Ron Michel. Photo credit: Treaty 4 News - http://treaty4news.com/2016/07/fsin-wants-first-nations-included-in-oil-spill-response/

Timing: A Big Spill During Major Federal Environment and National Energy Board Reform

In the wake of the Husky Energy oil pipeline spill detected on On July 21, 2016, the reality of Indigenous jurisdiction and stewardship of waterways in Canada is getting renewed attention.  The 250,000 litre spill of heavy oil and diluent ("dilbit") into the North Saskatchewan River from the 19-year-old pipeline comes as Indigenous communities are focused on high profile federal approval processes for pipelines proposed to carry similar products (such as Northern Gateway, Energy East, and TransMountain).  The spill also comes as the federal government begins its review of the federal environmental assessment processes and a parallel "modernization" of the National Energy Board which is responsible for pipelines under federal jurisdiction.

See our important post on Fish, Canoes, Pipelines – Un-gutting Canadian Environmental Assessment regarding federal environmental regulatory reform happening late summer and fall, 2016!  The post highlights Indigenous jurisdiction and the federal government's commitments to indigenous engagement and participant funding for Indigenous people as it reforms the National Energy Board and the way environmental assessments are carried out in Canada.  Many First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities are gettting deeply engaged in environmental assessment processes and project implementation agreements, and the Husky Energy spill will increase interest and engagement in furthering such engagement this fall.


The Spill and Its Environmental Impacts - Current and Future

Response crews were unable to contain the spill, forcing North Battleford and Prince Albert to shut down their water treatment plant intakes to protect human health.  Prince Albert city council has declared a local state of emergency over an oil spill that threatens its water supply.  Environment and Climate Change Canada said that recreational use of the affected waterways is not recommended. Prince Albert city council agreed to impose fines of up to $1,400against residents and businesses that use water outside of the barest necessities.  An emergency secondary water supply to Prince Albert is expected to cost more than $1 million.  Husky Energy spokesperson Al Pate said; “We accept full responsibility for the spill and the cleanup, and we will make it right.

According to the executive director of environmental and municipal management services at the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, drinking water issues facing about 70,000 people along the North Saskatchewan River could persist for weeks and possibly months: It’s not going to be a short-term event.” According to Environment and Climate Change Canada spokesperson Lo Cheng“What’s happening is the rest of the oil is mixing with the sediment — this river is fast-flowing, there’s sediment, quite a lot of sediment in this river and it’s mixing — and therefore it’s getting heavier and going towards the bottom.” 


Indigenous Concerns About the Spill

The concerns expressed by Indigenous leaders echo concerns heard on other pipeline projects on the national stage:

  • "As stewards of the land it is our role to protect the environment including the waterways." - FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, CBC News report."
  • We are talking about medicinal herbs that are grown along the riverbanks, the berries that are grown along the riverbanks; it's our way of life off the land, it's survival off the land." -  Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron, CBC News report.
  • “There are some concerns (from) our elders, our leadership in Prince Albert, ’cause we’re down here by the river and we need some answers and those questions that we have, the answers are not coming.” - Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Grand Chief Ron Michel, Saskatoon Star Pheonix Report.
  • “We have at least a third of the population (in Prince Albert) is First Nation. Most of them are from our area, and that’s going to be a priority for us, how we’re going to supply water for our members,” Michel said. “Also not to forget that some First Nations along the river, who use the river quite a bit in terms of fishing, hunting, and trapping. If (the oil) ever gets to the animals, that’s going to be a big burden for our First Nations.” -  FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, Prince Albert Now report.
  • "Industry has tried to minimize these types of impacts. So what is the true impact of this oil spill? We do not know. Are the booms going to contain all the oil? Absolutely not, so this could go on for years and years and years." - FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, CBC News report.
  • “Things have to change. We’re not going to ever leave Saskatchewan. We’re here to stay and (these) kinds of things that are happening shouldn’t have happened.” -  PAGC Grand Chief Ron Michel, Saskatoon Star Pheonix Report.
  • “We want to find out who built that pipeline, who gave the permissions for that pipeline…We need some answers,” he said. “We need an audience with Husky energy, we need an audience with the leadership in Regina… it’s something that can’t be taken lightly by us.” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, Prince Albert Now report.

Indigenous Responses, Recommendations, Demands and Actions

While the North Saskatchewan River is protected under several federal acts, including the Fisheries Act, Indigenous leaders are seeking jurisdictional and stewardship oversight beyond what is the norm with federal and provincial agency responses. The responses, recommendations, demands and actions from key Indigenous organizations focus on jurisdictional and stewardship oversight, and include 9 key items:

1) A demand for an independent environmental assessment of the spill that includes "full inclusion, a full dialogue, with industry, with the province — [Saskatchewan] Premier Brad Wall and his ministers — to begin the discussion” -  Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN)

2) First Nations people in general should be front and centre in all effortsPrince Albert Grand Council (PAGC)

3) Accurate and timely information to inform First Nation decisions to deal with the spill and its aftermath and impacts on communities: “We need an accurate assessment of the amount of oil spilled into the river to fully understand the amount of time and resources that will be needed to deal with this environmental catastrophe” - FSIN Vice Chief E. Dutch Lerat.

4) Include Saskatchewan First Nations in the cleanup effort, which could last years and cost billions of dollars - FSIN and PAGC “We want to be part of the clean-up, we have a tremendous amount of labour force husky could use to help cleanup.” - FSIN Grand Chief Bobby Cameron

5) Action for safe water. The Prince Albert Grand Council is working on a program to bring potable water to communities who may be affected. - PAGC

6) First Nation representation on the spill response command centre - “We’re trying to get a local representative on the command center. Currently we don’t have a First Nation representative at the command center. I’m being told it is going to happen though” - FSIN Grand Chief Bobby Cameron

7) Input into spill response decision-making and assurances that Indigenous "interests in respect to our inherent and treaty rights to hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering will be taken into account during the decision making process."  - FSIN

8) Independent First Nation monitoring of the environmental impact the spill. “Our environmental people are looking into it right now, they’re going to the communities to test the water so we’re keeping a good profile on our communities. As soon as we detect it we want to find out how big of the spill is within the area so we can shut off the water systems.” -FSIN Grand Chief Bobby Cameron

9) First Nation driven environmental assessment of the spill: Along with participation in the environmental assessment conducted by regulators, “we’re calling for our own environmental assessment because historically industry has tried to minimize these types of impacts." - FSIN Grand Chief Bobby Cameron

Oil slick on the river in Prince Albert, SK. Photo credit: Treaty 4 News. http://treaty4news.com/2016/07/fsin-wants-first-nations-included-in-oil-spill-response/

Oil slick on the river in Prince Albert, SK. Photo credit: Treaty 4 News. http://treaty4news.com/2016/07/fsin-wants-first-nations-included-in-oil-spill-response/

Pipeline Integrity: Indigenous Jurisdiction and Oversight

These early responses and demands for Indigenous jurisdictional and stewardship oversight will no doubt resonate with Indigenous communities engaging with National Energy Board oil pipeline approval processes across the country, such as Energy East.  As the federal government embarks on its its review of the federal environmental assessment processes and a parallel "modernization" of the National Energy Boardthe Husky Energy oil spill will be front and centre in Indigenous jurisdictional discussions around pipeline operations and maintenance oversight, and emergency and spill response.

We also expect the spill to increase Indigenous voices around what happens after a pipeline is put in the ground - so called "Pipeline Integrity Management Programs".  At present there are few examples of pipeline operators actively engaging with Indigenous groups in terms of Indigenous jurisdiction over lands and waters.  We expect to see this change to reflect Indigenous oversight, stewardship and environmental monitoring and management programs that are now common on major mining projects in Canada.

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