Formal investigation into Kearl oil sands leaks begins 

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) enforcement officers are set to begin a formal investigation into the tailings leaks at the Kearl […]
Aerial photograph from Kearl oil sands site. Danielle Paradis/APTN image

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) enforcement officers are set to begin a formal investigation into the tailings leaks at the Kearl oil sands project north of Fort McMurray, Alta. They have a mandate to enforce federal environmental legislation. The project is 71%-owned by Imperial Oil and 29% by ExxonMobil Canada

CMJ first reported demands by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation that the spill be stopped and cleaned up in March. The Indigenous community accused Alberta regulators of covering up the spill. They said at the time no attempt had been made to alert downstream Indigenous communities of the leaks for a year after they began. The ACFN chartered a helicopter and recorded evidence of the spill two months ago. 

In April, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) confirmed that it had the results of water testing that showed there were naphthenic acids in a small lake which feeds into a tributary of the Firebag River. These acids are formed during the breakdown of petrochemicals and are typically found in oil sands tailings. 

Both Imperial CEO Brad Corson and AER CEO Laurie Pushor testified before the Parliamentary environment committee in April. In conjunction with the hearing, Imperial blamed the spill on process failures and equipment problems. 

Finally, the oil company said in early May it was “activating seepage mitigation systems.” It said it will continue to communicate with nearby communities, but that drinking water is safe and there have been no indications of impacts to wildlife and fish. 

Read the ECCC announcement of enforcement on the website.

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