In July, more than 200,000 litres of oil spilled from a pipeline in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, forcing the city of North Battleford to briefly shut down its water treatment facility. As of late November, the city was still pumping in water from a neighbouring community.
Now, the provincial government is blocking efforts to release safety reports that may shed light on how it manages pipelines. In the 2015 fiscal year, Saskatchewan conducted just 78 pipeline inspections. There have been well over 100 reported pipeline incidents between the start of 2015 and November 29, 2016 in Saskatchewan.
Just days after the July spill, the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (NDP), the official opposition, filed an access to information request asking the incumbent Saskatchewan Party to release all of its pipeline inspection reports for Husky Energy from 2011 onwards. Husky Energy owns the pipeline that spilled. The provincial government pushed back, reasoning that releasing safety reports would compromise prosecution against Husky arising from its investigation into the spill.
The Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) investigated and concluded that releasing the reports would not harm prosecution and recommended that the province comply with the information request.
On Tuesday, the Saskatchewan government rejected the privacy commissioner's recommendation, meaning that the pipeline safety reports will remain hidden from the public.
"We're extremely disappointed," said NDP MLA Nicole Sauerer in an interview over the phone. "We need to have a discussion about pipeline safety, and in order to do that we need to have all of the information at the table."
"The next step would have to be a court order," Sauerer continued.
The Saskatchewan Party won't be releasing safety reports, Ministry of the Economy communications consultant Jamie Shanks told me in an email. However, after the province's investigation is concluded, it will consider access to information requests again.
"The next step would have to be a court order"
"It is important to the integrity of the investigation that information is not released in a manner that may adversely affect the investigation," Shanks wrote. "Upon conclusion of the investigation, freedom of information requests for information involved in the investigation will be considered according to the provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP)."
According to Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner Ronald Kruzeniski, it's fairly routine for a government body to reject his recommendations. However, Kruzeniski told me in a phone interview, it's his opinion that releasing the pipeline safety reports would not impact potential prosecution, as the government claims it would.
"I accept there could be documents in the past that could get very, very linked to the investigation," Kruzeniski said. "But we start from the proposition that these documents were created for a different purpose, and on the day the request was made, those documents would have been released if it didn't turn out to be an investigation."
For now, Canadians will remain in the dark about how Saskatchewan manages some of its most problematic energy projects—that is, unless a court order forces the province's hand.