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Alta. tailings pond to get federal inspection

Alta. tailings pond to get federal inspection
Last Updated: Monday, November 15, 2010
CBC News

Environment Canada officials will be in northern Alberta on Tuesday to inspect a tailings pond operated by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. that was the subject of a CBC News investigation.

Federal Environment Minister John Baird made the announcement in the House of Commons on Monday, in response to a question from Alberta NDP MP Linda Duncan.

"We're deeply concerned about the reports that we have learned of," Baird said. "I have spoken to my deputy minister and Environment Canada officials will be on the ground to take a look at the situation tomorrow."

The pond is part of CNRL's Horizon oilsands project near Fort McKay, Alta.

Federal Environment Minister John Baird in the House of Commons on Monday. Federal Environment Minister John Baird in the House of Commons on Monday. (CBC)The pond has containing berms on only three of its sides. Tailings on the western edge are to be contained by topography and clay beneath the surface, an arrangement approved by Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB).

But aboriginal people in the area are concerned that the animals they traditionally hunt and trap are drinking water from the pond, which could potentially put toxins into their food supply.

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. acknowledged Monday that beavers are getting into a section of the site but they are doing what they can to keep the animals away.

"Yes we are aware that there are beavers, but not in the pond ... There is some surface water to the west of the tailings pond which is fresh water and not affected by the process water," said Calvin Duane, manager of environment for CNRL.

"We were aware of that quite some time ago and we're actually working with local trappers to work with us from Fort McKay to get the beavers out of there, so yes we're being very proactive with that, working with the local community to get the beavers out."
CBC story not accurate: ERCB

The ERCB sent out a news release Monday stating the CBC story was inaccurate — that the tailings are not leaking into the muskeg or a stream at the western edge.

"The water body in question is a minor stream which flows downhill into the tailings pond," ERCB spokesman Davis Sheremata said in written statement,

"The tailings pond and the stream lie at the bottom of the natural depression and all water in the area flows into the pond, not out of it."

Sheremata said ERCB inspectors checked the site on Monday and found it was compliant with its regulations. The muskeg lies within the CNRL lease boundaries and is proposed to be used as a dedicated area to dry mature fine tailings.

CNRL's Duane said the company is trying to keep animals away from the pond to the best of its ability.

"It can never have a zero effect," he said. "What we do is we try to get it as low as we possibly can and that's what we're aiming to achieve," he said.


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