Ottawa considers Alberta oil sands leak harmful to wildlife; issues order to stop pollution

Federal inspectors have ruled that the release of oil sands wastewater from Imperial Oil Ltd.’s Kearl mine is harmful to wildlife and ordered the company to take immediate action to stop the seepage from a tailings pond.

“Based on the information compliance officers have to date, the seepage is believed to be detrimental or harmful to fish,” Environment Canada spokeswoman Nicole Allen said in a statement.

“On March 10, 2023, law enforcement officers issued a Fish Act order to Imperial Oil. The order requires immediate action to contain the seepage and prevent it from entering a body of water with fish.” .

The leak from the Kearl site about 45 miles from Fort McMurray, Alta., was first noted in May, but neither Imperial nor the Alberta Energy Regulator kept local First Nations or provincial and federal environmental officials informed. . News of the leak broke on February 7 in an environmental protection order from the regulator, following another release of 5.3 million liters of tailings from a catchment pond at the site.

Federal officials have said that Alberta is required to report such leaks within 24 hours.

The realization that nine months had passed between the discovery of the original release and the public announcement sparked widespread anger from First Nations, who harvest on land near the site. Arthur Noskey, Grand Chief of the Treaty 8 First Nations, added his voice over the weekend.

“Identify the causes of the Imperial tailings breaches and find a solution immediately,” he wrote. “Imperial and Governments Must Contain Toxic Oil Sands Leaks”.

The Northwest Territories government said it should have been informed as well, given a bilateral agreement it has with Alberta over the shared basin.

Allen said the government instructions are tools used by the federal minister when there is an unauthorized release of a harmful substance into water frequented by fish or when there is a “serious and imminent danger of such an incident and immediate action is necessary.”

Imperial is complying, company spokeswoman Lisa Schmidt said in an email.

Ottawa considers Alberta oil sands leak harmful to wildlife; issues order to stop pollution. #abpoli #ableg #oilsands

“We are responding to instructions provided by ECCC officials following their visit to Imperial’s Kearl site last week and have installed surface water pumps in the area to prevent seepage from entering a fish-bearing water body.

“Monitoring to date in this waterbody indicates that there has been no change to baseline conditions. We plan to collect the fish from this waterbody as a precautionary measure and install a fish barrier to prevent migration.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said there were no impacts to wildlife and drinking water was not compromised.

Environment Canada will continue to monitor the cleanup of the release, Allen said.

“Inspectors will return to the Kearl site in the coming days to assess the steps Imperial has taken to stop the seepage, which is occurring on land near two tributaries of the Athabasca River,” it said.

“Officers should remain on site to monitor the cleanup and gather more information to see if the Federal Fisheries Law has been violated.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 13, 2023.

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