REGINA — Saskatchewan's Justice Ministry is reviewing Husky Energy's response to alarms before a major oil spill last summer to determine whether charges are warranted.
The department is also looking into a delay in shutting down the ruptured pipeline.
"I am deeply concerned about this ... and I think our actions to date, and going forward ... show that we've taken this very seriously," Energy and Resources Minister Dustin Duncan said Thursday at the legislature.
The leak last July allowed 225,000 litres of heavy oil mixed with diluent to spill onto the bank of the North Saskatchewan River. About 40 per cent reached the river.
Government investigators say the leak began July 20, the day before the spill was discovered.
Investigators found that the pipeline's alarms were warning of potential problems before the spill and continued until the line was shut down for scheduled maintenance at 7:15 a.m. on July 21.
Husky said last summer that pipeline monitoring indicated pressure anomalies at 8 p.m. on July 20 and the company started a shutdown at 6 a.m.
Duncan said he's also concerned that the government was first told about the spill by a member of the public.
"It was the ministry that notified Husky that there was oil spotted by a resident of the province on the river. It wasn't the other way around. They didn't notify us first. We notified them."
Husky Energy (TSX:HSE) could face fines of up to $1 million a day under the Environmental Protection Act and $50,000 a day under the Pipelines Act.
When asked about the justice department review, a Husky spokesman said: "We respect that there's a process underway."
Mel Duvall said in an email to The Canadian Press that the summary provided by the Saskatchewan government appears to be consistent with the company's own investigation.
"As we have stated from the beginning, Husky accepts full responsibility and is using what we've learned from this incident to improve our systems and operating procedures."
Husky, which says it has spent $107 million on the clean up, has said the pipeline buckled because of ground movement.
The spill forced the cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort to shut their intakes from the river and find other water sources for almost two months.
Environmentalists have called for Husky to be fined for discharging a substance that could hurt the environment.
Hayley Carlson with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society said her group is happy that the investigation is being reviewed by prosecutors
"If charges were laid in this case, it would definitely set a precedent that the government of Saskatchewan is willing to take this issue seriously," said Carlson.
The government says the Husky investigation has revealed that regulatory standards for pipelines that intersect with water need to be strengthened to address risks in those locations, slope movement in particular.
The government is also investigating another major oil spill that was discovered by a member of the public.
On Jan. 20, a band member from the Ocean Man First Nation in southeastern Saskatchewan found a 200,000-litre pool of crude on farmland.
The pipeline responsible, owned by Tundra Energy Marketing Ltd., is nearly 50 years old and there's no record of it ever being inspected by provincial authorities.
— With files from Ian Bickis in Calgary
Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press