Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Syncrude Sued over 500 Dead Ducks in a Tailings Pond

The world of oil sands development just got a lot more complicated today. Ecojustice launched a private prosecution against Syncrude Canada this morning over the tailing pond drowning of 500 migrating ducks last April. This event has become symbolic about the ecological concerns around oil sands development, and tailing ponds in particular.

The action is under the Federal Migratory Birds Convention Act that prohibits deposit of harmful substances in areas frequented by migratory birds. This action is aimed at Syncrude but also targets the Canadian and Alberta government on issues of enforcement of environment protection legislation. Both governments promised to pursue the environmental legal issues at the time of the ducks drowning from the residual oil in the tailing ponds.

A recent science-based study on oil sand impact on migratory birds was released by Alberta’s Pembina Institute, the Boreal Songbird Initiative and the Natural Resources Defense Council based in Washington D.C.

The potential long term impact of oil sands development on all migratory birds in the Alberta portion of the Boreal Forest ranged from 6 million to 166 million bird lost in a 30-50 year period, depending on the pace and nature of oil sands development.

This new legal action launched against Syncrude is supported by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics. Forest Ethics are the same folks who effectively took on the Canadian forestry industry a decade ago with the famous full page Victoria’s Secret ads in major American newspapers.

The accusation being made against Alberta and Canada governments are the long delay in prosecuting the “wildlife disaster” of the 500 dead ducks and enforcing the law. The reasons for the legal action expressed by the sponsoring ENGOs is wildlife and human health concerns all around the tailing ponds and oil sands development practices.

There is another Alberta government study in process and pending release on concerns of human health in the aboriginal populations in Fort Chipewyan, down steam from the oil sands. There is no indication when that human health study will be completed and released publicly either.

At a recent meeting in Edmonton with experts and industry dealing with oil sands tailing ponds an industry spokesperson suggested that the solution for the toxic tailing ponds would be to clean up the water and release it into the Athabasca River.

These stewardship and environmental issues on oil sands development are getting more complicated and more energized as time goes on. In our November 2007 research we polled 4600 Albertans on their values about oil sands development. We found the most important issue of concern was habitat protection. CO2, water usage and reclamation were also major concerns from our study. The drowning death of 500 ducks has most of these elements gathered together in one tragic and resonant event.

Stay tuned. With Obama’s environment and economic transformation agenda, this drama has only just begun.