Syncrude charged after 31 great blue herons found dead near Fort McMurray in 2015

A great blue heron in Tabusintac bay. File, Global News

Syncrude Canada Ltd. is facing one charge under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act after 31 great blue herons were found dead August 2015.

The birds were found at the company’s Mildred Lake oil sands mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta. The discovery was reported to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) on Aug. 7, 2015.

“They were close to a sump, which is a low area where runoff fluids gather,” Bob Curran with the AER said at the time. “There was some bitumen there which impacted the one bird that they found this week and euthanized. The others were outside of that area so it’s unclear what the cause of death was.”

Syncrude has been charged with failing to store a hazardous substance in manner that it does not come into direct contact with, or contaminate, animals.

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WATCH BELOW: About 30 blue herons were found dead at the Syncrude Canada Mildred Lake oilsands mine site north of Fort McMurray. Lisa Wolansky filed this report in August 2015.

In a series of tweets sent Thursday afternoon, the company expressed its regret about the incident, but provided no further comment on the charges, saying it needed to “review the charges in detail.”

The company faces a fine of up to $500,000 if convicted.

The first court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2017 in Fort McMurray.

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Greenpeace spokesperson Mike Hudema said in a statement the organization was happy to hear about the charge, but feels fines for these type of charges need to be higher.

“A fine that can be paid off by a few hours’ profit doesn’t send much of a signal to the company or to industry, and as long as these toxic ponds and lakes are around, these preventable deaths will continue to happen,” he wrote.

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.

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.

– With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News

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