Oil Sands Watch | Pembina Institute


How sorry is Syncrude? Actions speak louder than words

It's been almost two years since 1,606 ducks died in one of Syncrude's northern Alberta tailings lakes. After the incident, we heard an apology from Syncrude - the sincerity of which can now be questioned given their bizarre decision to plead not guilty in court.

Regardless of the outcome of Syncrude's court case now underway, the continued production of liquid tailings, a toxic byproduct of the oil sands extraction process, remains an issue of concern that has not been adequately addressed.

In the face of increased pressure to clean up the oil sands, both industry and federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice have ramped up communications efforts to spin the oil sands clean, seeing the problem as one of image, not environmental impacts.

And while communications efforts expand so, too, do the environmental impacts. Tailings lakes cover more than 130 square kilometres (some media outlets recently reported the area as 50 square kilometres, but the size has now reached 130 square kilometres) - an area larger than Vancouver and set to grow further with liquid tailings rapidly expanding by 200 million litres every day. (Test your oil sands know-how with today's quiz in the Edmonton Journal.)

Despite the province's Directive 074 to reduce future tailings growth, a Pembina and Water Matters review found seven out of nine oil sands mines have no plans to comply. Syncrude alone is responsible for more liquid tailings than all the other oil sands mines combined, yet was among the companies whose plans failed to meet the directive. As further evidence of Syncrude's failure to acknowledge the unacceptability of current tailings management practices, in 2009 the company submitted an application to expand its tailings area. Actions speak louder than words.

We will be carefully watching the proceedings of the next two months, and only time will tell us whether Syncrude will be held accountable for the death of these ducks and whether they'll be allowed to continue to flout the rules around tailings cleanup.


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