Hundreds of ducks die on Syncrude tailings pond
At least 230 waterfowl had to be euthanized after landing on one of Syncrude's tailings ponds Monday evening. And as of Tuesday afternoon, another two oil companies have come forward reporting that they also had waterfowl landing at some of their tailings ponds.
Syncrude reported that the 230 ducks had to be euthanized due to contact with bitumen floating on the surface.
Syncrude says the remaining birds are still being assessed by Syncrude and government officials. The company believes the bird activity was due to a freezing rain in the area, which it says made it difficult for the birds to fly.
The premier admits he is not an expert on waterfowl, but when referring to the incident Tuesday afternoon said, "That would be rather a unique situation where freezing rain would cause waterfowl to land an not be able to fly."
The province now says it can confirm that oil companies Suncor and Shell also had landings at some of their tailings ponds.
The province says Alberta Environment staff are on site at Syncrude and Suncor, and further staff are being deployed to Shell, to work with the companies to determine the number of landings and the impact on waterfowl.
Earlier in the day, Environment Minister Rob Renner said he is "disappointed and frustrated" that this incident has occurred. He said the province has already launched an investigation to determine why the waterfowl landed on Syncrude's tailings pond.
"I am disappointed that we're going through this again. The timing, obviously couldn't be worse," he told reporters Tuesday.
Syncrude says bird deterrents were in place when the ducks landed.
"Our deterrent system was in full operation at the time but our staff did take additional air cannons out and flares guns and air horns to try and scare the birds away, but with no luck," said Syncrude spokesperson Cheryl Robb.
This comes less than a week after a judge ordered Syncrude to pay $3 million in penalties for the deaths of 1,600 waterfowl on one of the company's tailings ponds back in 2008.
The sentence will see the company pay a fine of $800,000, with $250,000 of that funding a wildlife management technician program at a Fort McMurray college. In addition, Syncude will pay $1.3 million to an avian research program to develop better bird deterrents and $900,000 to a waterfowl protection program that would see the company pay for a protected wetland near Edmonton.
In June of this year Syncrude was found guilty of causing the duck deaths.
The company had entered a not guilty plea to both provincial and federal charges. During the trial, Syncrude maintained the company did everything in its power to prevent the tragedy.
Greenpeace says this recent occurrence is the best proof that tailings ponds are dangerous, even with deterrents in place.
"It's time to start eliminating these tailings lakes. The only safe toxic tailing lake is not a toxic tailing lake at all," said Greenpeace spokesperson Mike Hudema.
With files from Kevin Armstrong and Scott Roberts