An environmental group says it's "astonishing" the Saskatchewan government took three days to announce a 200,000-litre pipeline oil leak had fouled farmland on the Ocean Man First Nation after it was reported last Friday.
But Energy and Resources Minister Dustin Duncan defended the province on Tuesday, noting the spill in southeast Saskatchewan wasn't reported until late Friday night to the Ministry of Environment and he first learned about it on Saturday morning.
Keith Stewart, head of Greenpeace Canada's climate and energy campaign, said in an email there's too much secrecy surrounding oil spills in Saskatchewan.
"First the government waits three days to announce it, then the company will neither confirm nor deny that it's their oil," he said.
"More worrisome, however, is that once again pipeline spill detection technology and systems failed, leaving it up to community members to smell and see the oil before action is taken."
Chief Connie Big Eagle said an Ocean Man band member who worked in the oil industry detected the smell of oil days before the leak was discovered about 130 kilometres southeast of Regina. The member eventually found the site of the spill contained in a small slough and reported it to officials last Friday.
She said emotions among the 540 band members range from disappointment to anger.
"Many of our people grew up in the oil industry and have made their careers in the oil industry and currently work in the oil industry so there's lots of knowledge," she said in an interview Tuesday.
"I don't know about things returning to normal, as far as the environment goes, but I know we're all co-operating at this point, ensuring it's cleaned up properly and no further damage is caused to the land or the environment."
Duncan told reporters an excavation of the spill site will start Wednesday and will allow investigators to confirm which of the pipelines running through the area is leaking.
He said the government is "pretty confident" it knows which is the culprit and said that pipeline has been shut down. He added about 170,000 litres have been recovered in a cleanup led by Calgary-based Tundra Energy Marketing Ltd.
"The cleanup is paid for by the (polluting) company," he said. "Obviously, if it turns out not to be their (Tundra's) pipe, there will have to be some agreements in terms of some cost-sharing."
In a statement on its website dated Monday, Tundra says it immediately notified government officials and residents upon reporting of the leak near its pipeline and it began removing surface oil with vacuum trucks.
Tundra is a subsidiary of grain and energy conglomerate James Richardson & Sons, Ltd., of Winnipeg. Neither company responded to requests for comment on Tuesday.
The Ocean Man pipeline spill is almost as big as the Husky Energy pipeline spill into the North Saskatchewan River last July.
The leak of 225,000 litres of heavy crude oil and diluent forced the cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert and Melfort to shut off their water intakes from the river and find other water sources for almost two months.
Husky said it spent about $90 million responding to the spill, which it said was caused by shifting ground.