Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Gift That Keeps On Giving: Alberta's Tar Sands

Yesterday the CBC reported CNRL's Horizon oilsands project near Fort McKay, Alta. and the possible environmental problems that a tailings pond which has containing berms on only three of its sides could cause the local environment. The reports are that a toxic sludge is flowing into the muskeg from an uncontained western edge. The western edge of the pond uses a rise in elevation and clay beneath the surface to prevent overflow, an arrangement approved by Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB). As there are no physical barriers to keep wildlife away local aboriginals are concerned that the animals they traditionally hunt and trap are drinking water from the pond, which could potentially put toxins into the food chain.

There was disagreement from CNRL and a government of Alberta apologist for big oil, Minister of the Environment Rob Renner who claimed the CBC pictures "...fail to show the gradual slope of the land, which creates a natural barrier to contain the tailings." Hopefully there's some truth in what he says and there won't be yet another oil sands related environmental tragedy. Environment Canada enforcement officers have been sent to inspect the tailings pond Tuesday by federal Environment Minister John Baird and we'll have a better idea about the wisdom of planning a tailings dump with berms on only three of four sides.
CBC News shot video of the tailings pond and screened it for the world-renowned water expert and ecologist from the University of Alberta, David Schindler. "This is such a big area," Schindler said as he watched the video. "Some of those chemicals have to be seeping into groundwater and Environment Canada should step in."


The land beneath the forest floor is made of clay, which is believed to be a natural sealant. But Schindler says clay isn't completely reliable and engineering tests often don't account for holes created by tree roots or burrowing rodents.
Over at Alternet.org the tar sands project along with shale oil in Alberta, the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains was included in a list of 5 mining projects that could devastate the entire planet.

And one more story of note, since the public is split about 50-50 on whether or not global warming is occurring but ninety-seven percent of top scientists are in agreement, they've decided to take action and be more pro-active and speak out about climate change and its' dangers.
 

4 comments:

LMA said...

According to CBC Edmonton News, the pond has passed federal inspection (surprise, surprise) with Environment Canada reporting no violations of the Fisheries or Migratory Birds Acts.

Of course, Dr. Schindler's concerns about toxins leaching through the clay, and First Nations' concerns about wildlife drinking the contaminated water were not addressed. The regulations for these tailings ponds are obviously bare minimum. If Environment Canada was really concerned about protecting the environment, there would be NO tailings ponds.

karl knox said...

Yeah, thanks LMA! I saw that report. Was hoping for something more detailed but I guess we'll have to wait. People only respond to pictures of cute animals in distress -- otherwise they behave like it all must be fine.

LMA said...

http://www.leaderpost.com/business/Alberta+opposition+slams+Horizon+tailings+pond/3831774/story.html

You might find this link interesting. CNR Ltd./Horizon must keep wildlife away from the poisoned water under Section 155 of the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Of course, even if animals are drinking the toxic water, it would be very hard to prove. Sad, sad situation.

karl knox said...

Thanks much for the link but it didn't work - you can try mailing me at oldpunk@cjlo.com

Cheers!