An international environmental watchdog says there is compelling evidence that Alberta’s oil sands waste ponds are not tight.
Posted September 3, 2020 at 10:24 PM
The Canadian Press
According to a report by the Environmental Cooperation Commission, an agency set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement, “there is strong scientifically valid evidence showing infiltration into groundwater near fields around the basins of residues.”
Federal Secretary of the Environment Jonathan Wilkinson found this finding “disturbing”. “The report’s findings cannot be ignored,” he said. I certainly take these results to heart. ”
The commission also found that the governments of Alberta and Canada did not work together to ensure that the industry was in compliance with environmental standards, despite numerous agreements to do so.
The commission “could not find any information to support a relationship between Alberta and Canada regarding discharges from tailings ponds,” the report said, released Thursday.
In 2017, two environmental groups and a member of an indigenous nation in the Northwest Territories asked the panel to determine whether Canada had done enough to investigate the leaks from tailing ponds, and to find out whether the Fisheries Act’s provisions on protection of water were complied with. The law prohibits the discharge of harmful substances into waterways where fish can be found.
Bitumen waste has long been detected in the Athabasca River, its tributaries and regional groundwater in northern Alberta. But Environment Canada and the industry state that it is impossible to determine whether this residue is industrial or natural.
The committee, drawing on years of peer-reviewed research and international experts, concluded that this uncertainty is no longer justified.
She claims that wastewater from the oil sands seeps into the groundwater below the tailings ponds as well as two tributaries of the Athabasca River. While there is no evidence of the presence of tar sands debris in the river itself, there are “indications” that the debris has reached the sediments of the river.
The industry recognizes leaks
The report is also based on industry data identifying leaks from ponds.
“The data presented in the Syncrude surveillance report shows consistent evidence of infiltration,” the committee wrote. Syncrude estimated that in 2017 785,000 cubic meters of water leaked from a waste pond – the equivalent of 314 Olympic-size swimming pools.
The commission also noted that there was no evidence that the federal and state governments were working together to stop the leaks.
Secretary Wilkinson said that Ottawa and Alberta are working together to monitor the oil sands industry, but they can do better. “The tailing ponds problem needs to be addressed and this requires closer cooperation and increased urgency on the part of both governments,” he said.
Alberta Interim Chief Scientist Garry Scrimgeour said the report has just been released and Alberta should take the time to analyze it. He nonetheless assured that the two governments were indeed working on this file, noting that the tar sands monitoring program is co-chaired by representatives from Ottawa and Edmonton.
“It’s a long-term partnership with deep roots,” he said.
Daniel Smith, Environment Canada’s regional director for the area, explained that government scientists are now using technology that allows them to track contamination from the oil sands back to its source and analyze samples taken in 2019. .
“We realized we had to improve science,” he admitted. If Environment Canada officials find violations of the Fisheries Act, we will take action. ”
Dale Marshall of Environmental Defense, one of the groups that filed the original complaint, said the report confirmed the fears of environmentalists.
The lack of cooperation between Edmonton and Ottawa has led to law enforcement “falling through the loopholes”, he says.
He hopes to see changes immediately. “I don’t see what else we can do,” he said, pointing out that industry data itself suggests that the law is being broken.
The federal government has all the evidence it needs. It’s time to act. ”