Tar sands found guilty in dead duck case - but will clean up ever happen?

Tailings ponds around upgrader ouside Ft. McMurray credit David Hawkins.JPG

Over two years, after they died landing in one of Syncrude’s tar sands strip mine waste ponds, 1600 ducks have been vindicated. Or have they? The court in Alberta found Syncrude guilty in the death of the ducks under provincial and federal wildlife and migratory bird laws. Sentencing will come next.

But, although Alberta has a new directive aimed at reducing the toxic tar sands mining waste ponds, analysis by the Pembina Institute and Water Matters showed that government regulators are allowing Syncrude tailings ponds to continue, despite the fact that the company’s management plan does not comply with the new directive. And Syncrude is not the only company getting off the hook.

What use is government oversight when the companies are still allowed to ignore safety and environmental standards in order to make a profit. The tar sands tailings ponds cover a vast area. “Pond” is a misnomer for what are among the largest dams in the world – in this case hold back toxic waste water. In many case, these ponds are right along the Athabasca River. Unless the tailings ponds are cleaned up, more ducks will suffer as the 1600 did two years ago. The tar sands region is on the path for all four major North American flyways for migrating birds and the Boreal forests and wetlands of that region are critical nesting habitat for songbirds and water birds.

Even more grievous, the communities downstream from the tar sands fear for their health as they experience a higher number of cancers often linked to petroleum pollution.

The verdict in this case is that Syncrude is guilty. But until the tailings ponds are cleaned up, all the tar sands strip mining companies and the Alberta government share in that guilt as well.

 Credit David Hawkins: Tar sands tailings ponds surround processing facility.