September 19, 2017 4:57 pm
Updated: September 19, 2017 7:18 pm

Investigation underway after 123 dead birds discovered at Alberta oilsands site

A pedestrian is reflected in a Suncor Energy sign in Calgary, Monday, Feb. 1, 2010.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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More than 100 dead birds have been found at an oilsands mine site in northern Alberta.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) said Tuesday 123 dead or euthanized waterfowl and songbirds were found at the Fort Hills Energy oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray. The AER said the incident happened on a tailings pond.

Suncor, the company that operates the oilsands site, said the birds were found on Sunday. The AER said it was notified of the dead birds on Tuesday.

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Suncor spokesperson Nicole Fisher said the majority of the birds were horned lark, which are a migratory species not native to the area.

Fisher said the company has launched a full investigation, which has already found a “full complement” of bird deterrent systems were in place, including sound cannons and radar.

Suncor is consulting with wildlife experts to see what they can do to prevent further landings, Fisher said. Additional radar and sound cannons have been added to keep the birds away, she added.

READ MORE: Suncor going ahead with Fort Hills mine

A spokesperson with Alberta Energy said the AER is keeping the government updated on the situation.

“Any harm to wildlife because of tailings ponds should be preventable,” Michael McKinnon said. “Regulations that increased oversight of tailings ponds were put in place in 2008 and improved in 2013 that included stronger wildlife deterrent requirements.

“We’ve been in contact with the regulator and have assurances they’re reviewing this incident to ensure that appropriate measures have been taking place to protect wildlife and that all of the existing regulations are being followed. The AER will be examining if additional actions are required.”

READ MORE: Alberta releases new plan for managing oilsands tailings ponds

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema said the “needless deaths” are an urgent reminder of the ongoing threat of tailings ponds.

“How many more incidents like this do we have to face before the government finally does something to solve the problem?” Hudema said in a media release.

“This is going to keep happening until the federal government actually enforces the laws designed to protect wildlife from toxic substances and the Alberta government puts an enforceable plan in place that sees tailings ponds cleaned up from Alberta’s landscape for good.”

READ MORE: Oilsands tailings ponds emit pollutants into the air, study confirms

The AER said Tuesday an inspector was on route to the site, where an investigation is underway.

The AER is working with Fort Hills Energy, the Alberta government and the Government of Canada to ensure that all safety, wildlife and environmental requirements are met during the response to the incident.

The Fort Hills oilsands mining project is located in the Athabasca region, about 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The project is operated by Suncor.

Because the site is not yet fully operational, it has not been shut down, Fisher said.

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