November 20, 2014 4:35 pm

Athabasca oilsands firms found not at fault for bird deaths

A tailings pond is picture at the Syncrude oilsands facility seen from a helicopter near Fort McMurray, Alta., July 10, 2012.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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CALGARY – The Alberta Energy Regulator says three oilsands corporations did nothing wrong when 196 birds died after landing in waste water tailings ponds earlier this month.

The regulator says Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Suncor Energy Inc. and Syncrude followed the rules that require them to use devices to scare waterfowl away from the ponds. The devices include noise makers and structures similar to scarecrows.

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Ryan Bartlett, a spokesman for the regulator, says the birds still managed to land on the oily water on Nov. 4 due to bad weather in the area near Fort McMurray, including fog and heavy, wet snow.

READ: 122 birds dead after landing on three separate oilsands sites 

Syncrude, which operates one of the biggest oilsands sites, was fined $3 million for the deaths of more than 1,600 ducks when they landed on its tailings pond in 2008. In October 2010, more than 550 birds had to be destroyed when an early winter storm forced the birds to land on the toxic waste ponds belonging to Syncrude and Suncor.

“The Alberta Energy Regulator has reviewed the recent waterfowl impacts in the Athabasca oilsands area and has determined that the oilsands mining operations involved were in full compliance with waterfowl protection equipment requirements at the time,” Bartlett said Thursday. “Unfortunately, the intense weather conditions on Nov. 4 forced the waterfowl to land on the ponds in spite of the deterrents.”

READ: Wildlife rehab group disappointed most of 122 oiled birds euthanized 

Bartlett said the investigation is closed.

On Nov. 6, Bartlett told Global News that, depending on the type of AER investigation, the process could take several months. Environment Canada, Fish and Wildlife, and Environment and Sustainable Resources were all notified.

Shortly after the Nov. 4 incident, Greenpeace Canada’s Mike Hudema said the province needs to get rid of tailings ponds altogether.

“The systems that they put in place to try to keep birds off are not working.”

“Industry has known for quite some time that these systems aren’t working, so birds continue to die in these tailings ponds, animals continue to die.”

READ MORE: Watching the pipelines – how good are Alberta’s energy regulators?

“The only way to keep birds and animals safe – in, really, what is a toxic brew of chemicals – is to get these tailings ponds off the Alberta landscape… That’s something Premier Stelmach promised to do and of course, we’ve seen absolutely no movement on it.”

With files from Global News

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