Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ducks and Environmental "Crime"

In April 2008, the world's image of a pristine Canadian environment --and Canadian migratory ducks in particular --was shattered when approximately 500 ducks landed and perished in a toxic tailings pond belonging to oilsands company Syncrude Ltd. Today Syncrude has been charged over the deaths of the ducks and, although the fine is low compared to company earnings, the company will be charged for breaking environmental laws. The more looming question is that Canada, and in this case the province of Alberta, continues to approve the discharge of toxic byproducts in a tailings pond. The extraction procedures produce large volumes of slurry wastes contaminated with naphthenic acids (NAs). Because of a “zero discharge” policy the oil sands companies do not release any extraction wastes from their leases and hence deposit them in these vast tailing ponds which were mistaken by the ducks to be regular ponds. The huge tailings containment area must ultimately be reclaimed, and this is of major concern to the oil sands industry. Toxic tailing ponds are industrial problems where no solutions exist. From a legacy point of view, a few questions come to mind, such as has the company put monies aside to grapple with this problem in the future? What if the acid/substances seep in the groundwater and pollute nearby lakes and streams?

My advice to Syncrude and other industrial players in the area would be to, first, prepare and conduct a full-scale biodiversity map of the surroundings in order to monitor and track/ remedy changes over time. This is part of any large-scale industrial due diligence process and Syncrude should have anticipated the migratory birds.

Small price to pay for a huge environmental disaster.

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