The prosecutor in charge of the Husky oil spill case said the matter could either wrap up in a few months or drag on much longer, depending on how the parties proceed at their next appearance.
Husky Energy Inc. made a first appearance in Lloydminster provincial court today on several provincial and federal charges relating to the release of 225,000 litres of oil from a pipeline in July 2016. About 40 per cent of that oil went into the North Saskatchewan River, affecting water sources in North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort.
It's difficult to say how long the case will go on, according to Crown Prosecutor Matthew Miazga.
"If there is going to be a resolution of the case by a plea and sentencing, it might go on for a few months," he said. "If the matter actually goes to trial it could be much longer than that."
Husky is accused of violating the federal Migratory Birds Convention and Federal Fisheries Acts, and was charged by the province under its Environmental Management and Protection Act.
The federal charges relate to the impact on the river system affecting fish and migratory birds. On the provincial side, Miazga said Husky is facing a charge of discharging a substance that was harmful to the environment, which was the oil spilling out of the pipeline.
The province charged Husky Oil Operations Ltd. - which held the licence for the pipeline, while the federal government has charged their parent company Husky Energy as well as Husky Oil Operations Ltd.
"We've just had preliminary discussions with Husky's counsel," Miazga said. "I think everybody hopes to try to resolve the case, but that's going to depend on the parties and what positions they take."
Miazga said the investigation into the case has been ongoing since the day of the spill in 2016. Most of the work in the investigation process was completed towards the end of last year.
The penalty for the provincial offence is a maximum of $1 million per day of the violation, and the federal charges carry even higher potential penalties.
"The penalties could certainly be very substantial, but that's something for the court, ultimately, to make a decision on," Miazga said.
Miazga represented the Crown for the provincial charge, while Federal Crown Prosecutor Carol Carlson appeared on the federal charges. Husky's lawyer Brad Gilmour, who appeared on behalf of the energy company, declined to comment.
Miazga said to reporters outside court there were thousands of pages of documents contained in the disclosure package which must be reviewed by Husky before the company can prepare a response to the charges.
"It's going to be a massive amount of material. To be fair, a lot of it is material that came from the company in the first place that they provided for the investigation," he said. "Husky's lawyer now needs to go through all the material to review it."
The case will be back in court on June 21.
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