A December 9th train derailment near the near Guernsey, Saskatchewan resulted in a spill of an estimated 1.5 million litres of crude oil. According to Canadian Pacific Railway, it will take a number of weeks to clean up the spill. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board stated that 33 oil tank cars and one hopper car derailed. Guernsey is approximately 115 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon.
In an interview with Global News, soil science professor Steven Siciliano noted details about how fast oil was spilling out of tank cars could make a difference. “If it’s slowly seeping, what happens is you can kind of imagine a sort of pancakes, so then it doesn’t go as deep. Whereas if it’s rapidly spilling, it can actually get deeper into the soil. And the deeper in the soil it gets, the harder and harder it can get to remediate,” said the professor in the interview. He added the Prairies have glacial till soil, which means it is made up of large clay layers which make it hard for water and air to go through them and making clearing oil very difficult.
Professor Siciliano is the NSERC/FCL Industrial Research Chair in In Situ Remediation and Risk Assessment Director, CREATE Human and Ecological Risk Assessment Program at the University of Saskatchewan. Current and recent research projects undertaken by Professor Siciliano include modelling and assessing the transfer of pollutants from soil to children, development of new soil toxicity test methods and approaches for Antarctic and the Arctic, and assessment of cardiovascular effects of metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Siciliano added many regions don’t have soil that freezes, which means techniques used in other areas won’t be as successful at the derailment site. He said many technologies have been developed in places like Oklahoma, California and southern Ontario, but the soil in Western Canada is much different from those places.
In a 2017 article in the Conversation, Professor Siciliano provided insight into various methods for managing oil spills including in-situ remediation. In the article he provides estimates for “dig-and-dump” versus in-situ remediation. He estimated dig-and-dump costing $150 per cubic yard of soil or more ($300 per cubic yard) in remote areas whereas the pricetag for in situ remediation can be as little as $20 to $80 per cubic yard.