The Husky Oil Spill Probably Doesn’t Surprise the Saskatchewan Auditor

In 2012 the Saskatchewan auditor’s report revealed that the provincial government did not have appropriate measures in place to ensure compliance with relevant pipeline regulations and legislation:

“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.”


The 2012 report’s findings, in part, indicated that the Government of Saskatchewan:

“…does not have documented policies and procedures for its staff to use to monitor compliance with the law including the (Canadian Standards Association Standard for pipelines)…nor does it require its staff to use checklists or other forms of documentation to support their assessment of an application against the Standard.”

(Let’s talk quickly about the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). You know what this is, you’ve likely got it’s brand all over various appliances and other products in your home.


Basically the CSA is the granddaddy of self-regulated regulators. It produces standards and regulations for everything from elevators to ultrasound equipment to televisions and yes, pipelines. 3,000 codes and standards, to be exact, 40% of which they claim are referenced by regulators in legislation, including Saskatchewan, which uses the CSA standard in its legislation for pipelines.

I can’t tell you what’s in the CSA Standard for pipelines because it costs $800. Not that I’d understand it anyway. Regardless, who cares? Because according to the Saskatchewan auditor, the government has absolutely zilch in place to ensure energy companies are complying with the Standards anyway.)

“…has not completed a formal risk assessment to determine the extent of the risk of pipeline failure or work necessary to mitigate the risk to an acceptable level at either the construction or operations phases.”

I don’t think any government could prevent pipeline leaks, but you’d think they’d at least try.

“…has not established a framework to monitor compliance of pipeline operators’ operations including maintenance, once a pipeline has been constructed and placed in operation.”

This pipeline was part of a new network that had just been constructed and placed in operation.

“… is specifically exempt from completing (pipeline spill cleanup) for pipelines and flowlines under The Environmental Spill Control Regulations. As a result, no government agency is responsible to verify that pipeline operators cleanup a contaminated site to an acceptable condition.

Just think on that a minute.

“…asserted that it performed detailed reviews and verification work on each application. However, we found little documented evidence of their work in the pipeline files to support licensing decisions.”

In other words, the government told the auditor they did their job on approving licensed pipelines, but couldn’t prove it.

“…does not have sufficient assurance as to whether pipelines are built as planned, whether pipeline quality is adequate or if any maintenance after construction is carried out in accordance with the Standard.”

“…has no documented processes to regulate existing pipelines and flowlines, as discussed later on in this chapter, once they are in operation. Energy and Resources did not request adequate information from pipeline operators related to their integrity management or safety processes.”

Notice the auditor differentiates between “pipelines” and “flowlines”. Simply put, pipelines are the big fatties that transmit (hence also called “transmission pipelines”) the energy product from big processing facilities to a consumer distribution centre (from which it gets to your house) or to market (ie terminal where it’s transloaded into rail cars or tankers).

Flowlines, also known as “gathering” pipelines (I think), are smaller pipelines that zig zag underground from wellheads or wherever, taking that raw product to either a production facility, or to the big fattie pipeline.

In Saskatchewan, big fattie pipelines have to be licensed. Flowlines do not.

That’s what makes this 2012 recommendation from the auditor so significant. In fact, it’s so important, you need to read it in entirety:

Screenshot (714)

Screenshot (715)

In late 2014 the Saskatchewan auditor, as is normal, produced a followup report on its 2012 indictment of and recommendations for pipeline regulating in Saskatchewan.

“By September 30, 2014, the Economy had implemented two of the seven recommendations, but needs to:


Establish policies and procedures to guide staff on evaluating ongoing pipeline operations


Develop a risk-based assessment approach to monitor pipeline construction and verify pressure tests


Consider seeking responsibility in law to licence flowlines and verify that pipeline operators clean up contaminated sites”

So, what two things did the government do after receiving the auditor’s recommendations in 2012?

“In 2013, the Ministry implemented checklists for staff members to use when assessing pipeline license applications and ‘leave to open’ applications. Once completed, it maintains these checklists in the permanent record associated with each licensed pipeline.”

Well then. Nothing is as foolproof as a checklist.

“The Ministry identified a number of potential resourcing issues in relation to its regulatory responsibilities for pipelines. As a result, the Ministry hired an additional fulltime pipeline engineer in January 2013 to fulfill some of its regulatory responsibilities. The Ministry also purchased some additional equipment (e.g., laptop, truck).”

I guess it was a start.

In 2014 Bill Boyd’s Ministry of the Economy implemented a self-regulation measure for pipeline operators like Husky – basically they were to evaluate themselves and submit that report to the government.

You know, like how your child writes their own report card, right?

Let’s take that analogy a step further: your child writes their own report card, but you don’t understand it.

“…the Ministry has not established policies and procedures to guide staff on evaluating the completed self-assessments or conduct any other monitoring of ongoing pipeline operations.”


I can’t find anything even remotely satirical to write about this line, from the 2014 followup report, because it’s simply stomach-turning:

Without the Ministry seeking responsibility in law to verify that pipeline operators clean up contaminated sites to an acceptable condition, there is a risk that no other government agency will accept this responsibility. This could result in land and groundwater becoming contaminated due to insufficient clean-up of spills by pipeline operators.”

As for those pesky flowlines,

“At September 30, 2014, the Ministry had not made progress in this area. The Ministry expects to consider the need to license flowlines during the 2015-16 fiscal year. It expects this will include its decision on whether changes to the law are necessary.”

I look forward to hearing about the Ministry of Economy’s 2015-16 study of the need to license flowlines.

The provincial government also told the auditor it “expects to amend The Pipeline Act, 1998 and The Pipeline Regulations, 2000 to include more substantive provisions regarding pipeline integrity and safety of ongoing pipeline operations.”

But here we sit today.

I mean, the North Saskatchewan river is technically under the federal government’s jurisdiction as a navigable waterway.

Technically, the municipalities are responsible for ensuring their residents have clean drinking water.

Technically your car wash should have insurance for this.

Will we hear similar sentiments when it’s time for Husky to literally put their money where their mouth is? I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them, though as of today, they refuse to even look you in the eye.

Is this about pipeline safety, or our dependence of fossil fuel? No, not right now. In fact, it’s really not even about this – it remains about restoring the basic necessities of life currently being denied Saskatchewan residents.

Soon, however, our focus will turn inwards, with all kinds of handwringing about how we need to ensure this never happens again. At that point, in no way can the Saskatchewan Government tell us they didn’t know it could have happened in the first place.

Correction – in my initial post I indicated that the leaky pipeline is a flowline. Emily Eaton, who is way smarter than me and knows this shit inside and out, says it’s not. I’m not sure if the fact that it’s not makes things better or worse, but there you go.

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