Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Alberta serious about tar sands clean up"

Alberta serious about oil sands clean up: minister
Strict New Rules

By Darcy Henton and Dan Healing, Canwest News
February 4, 2009

Alberta's energy minister says strict new rules governing oil sands tailings ponds will show the world that Alberta is serious about cleaning up the province's oil sands developments.

"I think the market community internationally [is] going to see that the province of Alberta and this government are very serious about how we move forward with ... development that's environmentally friendly," said Mel Knight.

Alberta has been under attack from environmental groups over the damage oil sands development in the northern part of the province is causing to the northern boreal forest and the water quality of the Athabasca River. Last spring's highly publicized deaths of about 500 ducks on a Syncrude Canada tailings pond drew international attention, and critics said the industry was giving the country a black eye. The ponds are used by oil sands mining companies to store water used in the oil upgrading process. Particles of heavy bitumen, sand and clay settle out in the ponds so the water can be reused.

New regulations announced yesterday require that oil sands mining companies reduce the fine particles in liquid tailings by 50% within four years. They also say the ponds must be "trafficable" -- solid enough to walk on and ready to be reclaimed -- no more than five years after they are no longer actively used.

The energy board regulates energy developments in Alberta. Companies must also describe in detail dedicated disposal areas for their ponds, have them approved by the board, and submit annual compliance reports for them.

If companies don't meet the requirements, they face increased inspections, shutdown orders and delays in approving any upgrades or improvements, the board said. However, the directives got a cool reception from industry and environmental groups yesterday.

Jake Irving, executive director of the Oil Sands Developers Group, said meeting the timelines would be difficult.

But environmental groups said yesterday the directive doesn't go far enough.

"While the directive intends to reduce new tailings waste, it is unclear how the directive will address the 720 billion litres of 'legacy' tailings on the landscape today," said Jennifer Grant, policy analyst with the Albertabased Pembina Institute.

She said tailings production in the Athabasca region covers a combined area of 130 square kilometres.

Toronto-based Environmental Defence said the new regulations won't stop the four billion litres per year of toxic pollution it claims is leaking into groundwater from tailings ponds.

The group also claims tailings ponds contribute to air pollution, particularly in summer months, when heat causes volatile organic compounds from the ponds, including benzene, to vaporize into the air.

© Copyright (c) National Post

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