The interim leader of the Green Party was in the Battlefords Sunday to see for himself the impact of the recent Husky pipeline spill of oil into the North Saskatchewan River.
Shawn Setyo has only been in the leader's job for a few weeks, but he already has been thrown into the fire in addressing the implications of a major environmental issue facing the province.
"As soon as we found out we called members on the ground in both North Battleford and P.A. to see what we could do and how we could help and to try to assess what kind of damage or how the oil spill was affecting them," Setyo said.
They have also tried to contact local organizations and First Nations to see if there was any way they could help or give advice, he said.
"For the most part, this is a practice in listening," said Setyo. "We want to listen to the affected people's, the affected communities, and to gather information and see how we could help in the end."
As for what he has heard so far, Setyo said each community is handling the situation differently. A lot of communities, particularly the smaller communities and First Nations, are having a much more difficult time dealing with the situation in terms of getting clean drinking water and dealing with the cleanup.
Prince Albert is certainly hard-hit in the crisis, Setyo acknowledged. As for North Battleford, he pointed to Battleford providing water to help with their situation, something he thought was a positive move.
Still, the Green Party leader wanted more information.
"There's still a lot of questions that are left in the dark right now," said Setyo. "That's why we're here in North Battleford today, to speak with locals and try to find out as much information as we can."
One of the things Setyo wanted to find out for himself was how much oil was still in the river in the Battlefords area.
He took a jar and filled it up with water out of the river to see if any oil was visible.
The water that filled the jar from the sample underneath the south side of the Battlefords Bridge looked very cloudy and definitely not drinkable.
Whether the jar had picked up any oil was not immediately apparent, however. Setyo intended to let the water settle over a number of hours to get a better sense of the impact of the spill on water in the region.
Husky itself has come under the microscope lately about the amount of information it has been willing to release about the spill and on how it happened. Setyo indicated he wants to see Husky provide as much information as possible.
"There should be a transparent process where all the information is released to see how affected people will be in the future, because we don't know how long this is going to take to clean up and with winter coming around the corner this could be a major issue.
"But we're not going to be pointing any fingers right yet. I think a full assessment by us, by Husky, by the Saskatchewan government, by the communities needs to be done. And I think cooperation and listening and access to information is vital at this point."
As for the impact on the province as a whole, Setyo believes the oil spill is an issue that will not go away any time soon, with the policy impacts to be dealt with for years to come.
One definite concern he had was about environmental regulation. Stories have surfaced in recent days that the pipeline expansion to Husky's new Edam East project did not need to undergo an environmental assessment -- something Setyo finds bewildering.
"It almost seems absurd that building a new pipeline or adding any extension to an existing pipeline is not subject to an environmental assessment,"said Setyo. "It almost seems natural that if you put anything new into a system that it needs to be assessed and stress tested and ensure these incidences don't happen."
Setyo said the the party was looking into making suggestions on legislation change or changing the regulations down the road. But "it seems a bit early in the stage," said Setyo.
"Our main concern is the wellbeing of the residents and the citizens, so that's our first step. Once that's been addressed, then maybe look into hopefully making sure environmental assessments are standard for all new pipelines, period."