Oilsands Duck Deaths Under Investigation

Workers search for ducks at the Mildred Lake settling basin near Fort McMurray. Photo Credit: Bruce Edwards

The toxic mining waste storage dams, known as tailings ponds, look like natural ponds to wildlife. When a flock of ducks landed in a Syncrudepond at nearly four hundred ducks died. The Canadian government is investigating the ‘completely unacceptable’ event, which once again underscores the connection between animals and environmental protection. – Global Animal

Photo Credit: Bruce Edwards

Edmonton Journal, Mariam Ibrahim And Hanneke Brooymans

The federal government has added its weight to the investigation of the latest duck deaths on oilsands tailings ponds, as the total rose above 350 dead ducks Wednesday.

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“This government takes this incident very seriously,” said Mark Warawa, parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Jim Prentice during question period in Parliament Wednesday. “This is completely unacceptable.”

This government has made it very clear that the oilsands must be developed in the most environmentally responsible way, Warawa added. “Environment Canada enforcement officials will investigate this incident.”

The number of ducks that perished on a Syncrude tailings pond is now at least 350. It’s thought that many of them landed Monday evening.

Scott Sullivan, Syncrude’s president and CEO, said Wednesday that crews are still out searching on the Mildred Lake tailings pond and the number could still rise. The incident happened three days after Syncrude faced a historic $3-million fine for allowing 1,600 ducks to perish on another of its tailings ponds in 2008.

Sullivan said he was very upset and concerned when he heard what had happened. It was clear that he was also puzzled by the incident.

“Our deterrent systems were fully deployed prior to this incident. And our experience when the systems are fully deployed, we have been very successful in avoiding this kind of incident.”

He added that the company plans to network and communicate with the scientific community in the province to get a better understanding of the birds’ migratory patterns and the potential impact the weather may have had on the waterfowl deaths.

The companies and the government say the weather was a contributing factor in bringing the migrating waterfowl down to the ponds. Freezing rain at the time is thought to have exhausted the birds, forcing them to find a place to land.

Environmental groups say this is yet another reason tailings ponds should be eliminated, as it will never be completely safe as long as they exist on the landscape. The majority of the waterfowl that were found Tuesday were concentrated in the southwest corner of the tailings pond, where a large, thick bitumen patch could be seen close to the pond’s shore.

There is some question about why Syncrude did not have their deterrents hooked up to their radar system, which they’ve had for about a year now. Other companies have a radar system which triggers deterrents, such as scare cannons, when birds approach.

Ducks also landed on tailings ponds belonging to Suncor and Shell.