Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Canada's tar sands companies fail to clean up toxic waste, report finds

Canada's tar sands companies fail to clean up toxic waste, report finds

Three arrested in environmental protests as Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper visits London

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 June 2013

Protesters gathered as Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper addressed Parliament on Thursday. Photograph: Peter Marshall/Demotix/Corbis

None of the companies operating in Canada's tar sands have met a commitment to clean up the vast and expanding sprawl of toxic waste ponds, an official report has found.

The report, from Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board, further challenges the Canadian government's claims to responsible mining of the tar sands.

Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, spoke to Parliament on Thursday. Three protesters were arrested during the visit.

The report focuses on the provincial government's promise to clean up and eventually eliminate a vast network of open ponds storing mining waste from the tar sands along the Athabasca river.

None of the seven companies operating in the tar sands met the original performance standard, set in 2009, during the last two years, the ECRB said in its report.

Only one of the companies met a revised and weakened standard.

The finding was quietly published last week, without a press release.

"Industry performance over the 2010/2012 reporting period has not met the original expectations," it concluded.

However, the board did not propose any penalties against the companies, suggesting instead that the clean-up targets may have been overly optimistic.

Mining waste from the tar sands, a mix of water, sand, silt, clay, contaminants, and hydrocarbons, is dumped in a system of open lakes, known as tailing ponds.

The ponds are hugely toxic to marine life, and some 7,000 ducks and geese die every year after mistakenly landing there.

The ponds currently occupy an area about 50% larger than the city of Vancouver, according to the Pembina Institute, an environmental research centre. By 2020, they are expected to expand to 250 square kms.

Alberta's government imposed the performance standards in 2009 to try to reduce the growing sprawl of liquid waste dumps. Under the standards, mining operators were to have reduced their waste by 50% by June 2013.

Alberta's premier, Alison Redford, promised during a trip to Washington in April that such waste ponds would disappear entirely by 2016.

Pembina Institute's Jennifer Grant argued the province should put further expansion of the tar sands on hold, until companies meet the performance standard. She also called for more rigorous enforcement action. " It is irresponsible to approve new oilsands expansion when mining operators are failing to meet tailings clean up rules," Grant wrote in an email. "Promises of responsible oilsands development ring hollow when the ERCB is not enforcing its own tailings rules."


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