Husky Energy has been given permission to repair a pipeline that spilled 225,000 litres of heavy oil mixed with diluent in Saskatchewan last July.
The pipeline will be rebuilt with enhanced leak detection and monitoring systems following the rupture in a section of Husky’s 16 TAN pipeline that allowed 40 per cent of the leaked volume to enter the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone.
“We’ve got a little more work to do with all the authorities before we are all comfortable to restart it,” said Husky’s CEO Rob Peabody during a conference call to discuss second quarter results on July 21.
Ironically, the leak was reported on July 21, 2016, but a government investigation found the pipeline’s dual alarm leak detection system issued notices of pressure anomalies on July 20.
The detection system reportedly continued to issue alarms until it was shut down for scheduled maintenance on the morning of July 21 last year.
“There’s a lot of changes that are going to take place there,” said Peabody who talked about lessons learned from that crisis.
“There’s going to be changes to the design, changes to monitoring equipment.
“The question is what can we learn, and what can the industry learn to respond even faster to any anomalies in the pipeline operations.”
The short answer he said is, learn from your mistakes and don’t do it again.
During question period, Rob Symonds, Husky’s COO, said the company has transferred what they’ve learned from the spill investigation particularly on slope stability, over to all of their operations.
He said specific to 16 TAN repair, Husky has put in a number of enhancements over what was there before into pipeline design.
These apply particularly to monitoring movement on the lines including fibre optics on the pipeline, inclinometers to measure on top of ground movement and using pipe with high grades of steel and thicker wall pipe.
Husky blamed ground movement for the pipeline rupture the occurred on land about 160 metres from the riverbank in a report issued last year.
Peabody took time to suggest the two leak detection systems in the leaky pipeline didn’t actually fail.
“Pipeline systems are dynamic systems and things are happening in them all the time, so you can imagine if you are looking at temperature and pressure and flow data, it’s always fluctuating to some degree,” he said.
Peabody said any leak detection system is trying to find anomalies in a fluctuating and dynamic system.
“It’s not that the systems failed, it’s just that there wasn’t an unambiguous message coming from the system,” he said.
“That would be my interpretation of it.
“These additional systems are to focus more locally on high risk so you’ve got a better chance of getting an immediate indication.”
At the height of the spill, up to 1,000 people were involved in the cleanup including 450 First Nations workers.
A 2017 summer shoreline cleanup and assessment program continues and is included in the total estimated cleanup cost of $107 million that Husky reported at the end of 2016.
“That number largely accounted for all of the cost as we go forward,” said Symonds.
The spill costs are to be borne by Husky Midstream Limited Partnership, a consortium in which Husky holds a 35 per cent interest.
Peabody meanwhile, said the silver lining from the spill crisis was it allowed the company to build closer relationships with both the community and First Nations.
“We worked very closely on the whole spill response with the local community and with the First Nations groups in the area,” he said.
“Everybody did an outstanding job.”
He said it was actually “quite heart warming” to see the response by everybody involved adding the company realizes the spill had an impact on communities including the James Smith Cree 400 kilometres downstream.
‘We are certainly grateful for the cooperation we received,” he said.
The spill forced major communities downstream such as North Battleford and Prince Alberta to seek alternate supplies of drinking water temporarily until the crisis abated.
‘We’ve learned some lessons there as in all these things when they don’t go right, the key is to learn from anything like that that happens,” said Peabody.