Environmental protection order issued to Syncrude after bird deaths at Alberta oilsands site

The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is investigating reports that approximately 30 blue herons have died at an oilsands site.
The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is investigating reports that approximately 30 blue herons have died at an oilsands site. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — Syncrude Canada has been issued an environmental protection order from the Alberta Energy Regulator after 30 blue herons were found dead at its Mildred Lake oilsands mine site last week.

The AER issued the order Tuesday, which requires the company to do the following:

  • Collect water and soil samples from the site for analysis
  • Develop a wildlife mitigation plan and detailed delineation and remediation plan
  • Develop daily public reports and publish them to the Syncrude Canada website
  • Submit a final report to the AER within 30 days of the completion of all work required in compliance with the order

The AER said Tuesday some of the work had already begun.

The CEO of Syncrude said the company has agreed to comply with all measures of the order.

Mark Ward also said the company will continue to work with AER and Environment Canada to find out what caused the deaths.

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“We are saddened by the deaths of these birds,” he said.

One bird was found covered in oil last Wednesday. It was alive, but had to be euthanized. When Syncrude staff went to investigate the site further, the other birds were found dead at the site about 40 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The AER was notified of the deaths on Friday.

The AER said the birds were found near a sump, a low area where runoff fluids gather, not a tailings pond. It’s not known exactly when the birds died.

READ MORE: 30 blue herons found dead at Alberta oilsands site

Over the weekend members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation spoke out about the incident, saying the government needs to do more to work with them on environmental issues.

“What it really sort of highlights is the fact that there is a really strong lagging record of reclamation in the region that’s leaving all these large areas of land sort of open and contaminated in various levels and various stages,” Eriel Deranger, executive assistant to Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam said Sunday. “The government needs to really start amping up the game and really focusing on prioritizing reclamation.

READ MORE: Syncrude bird deaths bring up ‘serious concerns’ with regulatory policies: Alberta First Nation

Syncrude, which operates one of the biggest oilsands sites north of Fort McMurray, was fined $3 million for the deaths of more than 1,600 ducks when they landed on its tailings pond in 2008.

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In November 2014, about 30 birds died after landing on a tailings pond at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake facility. In total, 122 waterfowl died after landing on three sites, including the CNRL Horizon facility and Suncor Energy’s tailings pond.

The AER is investigating the most recent deaths. Syncrude Canada is also conducting its own investigation.

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