May 6, 2008
Waste products from tar sands production are stored in large man-make lakes called "tailings ponds". These "tailings ponds" contain a "toxic slurry" of water, clay, sands, residual bitumen, heavy metals and chemicals. Among the toxic chemicals in tailings ponds are mercury and naphthenic acids.
There are currently 13 tailings ponds at tar sands facilities in northeastern Alberta. They cover an area of some 50 square kilometers.
More toxic sludge is being created daily at the rate of a conservatively estimated two to four barrels for each barrel of oil. It is estimated that toxic sludge from two of the bigger tar sands facilities alone will exceed one billion cubic meters by 2020.
There is no known way to "mitigate" the sludge created by production of tar sands oil. The companies just try to contain the contamination in these "tailings ponds" so the toxic materials don't leak into the ground water or river system where they are known to cause deformities in fish while the oil companies wait for the contamination to settle to the bottom -- a process that literally could take centuries. Letting the toxic materials simply settle to the bottom of the pond of course doesn't neutralize them.
On April 28th an indeterminate number of ducks looking for open water landed in a toxic tailings pond owned by a major tar sands company called Syncrude. Most of the ducks died. The number of dead ducks cited publicly is 500 but most sank to the bottom under the weight of the residue that got all over them so nobody really knows how many dead ducks there are at the bottom of Syncrude's toxic tailings pond.
Syncrude immediately locked down the area so outsiders couldn't see and take pictures of the scene. Provincial government officials have since taken pictures but aren't releasing them claiming strangely that Crown land leased from the province by Syncrude is "private property".
Alberta Premier Stelmach came out fighting arguing that 30,000 birds are killed annually in the US by wind turbines. The provincial government has allocated $25 million for a public relations campaign to counter adverse publicity.
The prognosis for the ducks that did survive isn't good. Only four are still alive and three of them landed since the 28th. The ducks that are still alive have been cleaned of surface contamination but the toxic chemicals still may erode their gastrointestinal tract of shut down their kidneys. Just describing the problem suggests the probability of it.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has described the deaths of the ducks as "a terrible tragedy" that's he says firmly is unacceptable to Canadians and will only hurt Canada's environmental image as an energy superpower. He said "We expect better". He said "This kind of thing shouldn't be happening".
Prime Minister Harper's big concern, of course, is the dead ducks having an adverse effect on markets for Alberta's dirty tar sands oil in a world that is becoming increasingly concerned about the environment.
On March 14th Lubicon Councillor Dwight Gladue spoke at a symposium on progress made by museums in dealing with aboriginal issues in the 20 years since a high profile Lubicon boycott of the cultural centerpiece of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics -- a museum exhibit of North American Indian artifacts originally called "Forget Not my World".. The symposium occurred shortly after another great public outpouring of distress in Canada over some kids killing a cat by cooking it in a microwave oven.
Most of the museum participants in the symposium were congratulating themselves over how much progress they've made in dealing with aboriginal issues since the Lubicon boycott. Councillor Gladue pointed out that there had been no progress toward settling Lubicon land rights; that there is no effort to deal with the issue of outstanding Lubicon land rights; that there are no Lubicon negotiations and that the plight of the Lubicons is growing steadily worse.
Acknowledging that killing a cat with a microwave was a terrible thing Councillor Gladue said he finds it hard to understand how white Canadians can become so distressed over the death of a cat when "Lubicon babies don't even get the chance to be born". Councillor Gladue was referring to terrible medical problems being faced by the Lubicon people as a result of massive resource exploitation activity in Lubicon Territory including, among other things, 19 still births out of 21 pregnancies in an 18 month period.
Prime Minister Harper is not known to have made any public statements about how the continuing Lubicon tragedy is unacceptable to Canadians and must be dealt with. His government has made absolutely no effort to deal with it.
Ducks, of course, don't have inconvenient unceded land rights to valuable resource rich land; still born Lubicon babies aren't threatening the market for tar sands oil in California and the tragic plight of the Lubicons somehow doesn't engender as much distress among white Canadians as 500 dead ducks or a tortured cat. That's an image of Canada that should worry Canadians for all kinds of reasons.
Below are six articles about the recent duck deaths at tarsands' tailing ponds in Alberta
1) Duck deaths will hurt Alberta: Harper
2) Dead ducks dent Alberta reputation
3) 500 ducks enter toxic pond and only 5 come out
4) Apology doesn't let Syncrude off the hook, Stelmach says
5) Ducks the new symbol of oilsands activism
6) Syncrude ducks critics at its peril
Duck deaths will hurt Alberta: Harper
'It's a terrible tragedy'
Jason Fekete, with files from Jon Harding
Friday, May 02, 2008
Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemned Thursday the deaths of 500 ducks at a toxic tailings pond as a "terrible tragedy" that's unacceptable to Canadians and will only hurt Alberta's environmental image as an energy superpower.
Harper said there's no excuse for what happened at the tailings pond at the Syncrude Aurora mine site north of Fort McMurray, adding it's another example of why greater environmental legislation is needed across the country.
"It's obviously a terrible tragedy and I think we and a lot of people are upset about it," Harper told reporters in Edmonton at the official opening of the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute.
"We expect better, to be quite honest. This kind of thing shouldn't be happening."
The Stelmach government -- which was selling itself in Washington as environmentally responsible when the incident occurred -- is facing accusations of a coverup for refusing to release photos of the ducks.
The provincial government is also being skewered for summarizing its U.S. junket as "Mission Accomplished."
Five ducks were rescued from the oily pond after authorities received an anonymous tip but so far three have survived. Syncrude spokesman Alain Moore said two birds died Wednesday in Fort McMurray while the three remaining birds are at a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Edmonton.
Syncrude said sound cannons used as diversion devices weren't functioning properly at the site because of a recent snowstorm, which led to the ducks landing on the toxic pond.
Bruce March, chief executive of Imperial Oil Ltd., the second largest owner within the Syncrude Canada Ltd. joint-venture, said he's "deeply disappointed" with the death of hundreds of ducks.
"Without question it was not only an unfortunate event, but a tragic event," March told reporters at Imperial's annual meeting Thursday in Calgary.
"It shouldn't have happened, we are deeply upset and we are doing all we can to change work processes and procedures to prevent it from happening in the future."
The prime minister, meanwhile, insisted that if Alberta is to take a leading role as a global energy player, it also has a "responsibility" to ensure its oil and gas industry, government and citizens are all good environmental stewards.
Instead, the deaths of the ducks is focusing international attention on the environmental cost to tap Alberta's oilsands -- the second largest oil reserves on the planet. It is also delivering a beating on the world's perception of Alberta.
"It's not going to do anybody's image any good," Harper said. "It is important that we have a good environmental record and a good environmental image."
Environment Canada, Alberta Environment and the province's Sustainable Resource Development Department continue to investigate the matter.
The timing of the incident couldn't be worse for Alberta, as deputy premier Ron Stevens just returned from Washington, where he was selling the northern Alberta oilsands as environmentally sustainable and a secure source of energy.
Stevens' initial assessment of his Washington trip -- posted this week on his blog -- is also raising some eyebrows.
On Tuesday, a few hours after Premier Ed Stelmach reported the incident, Stevens' blog summary of the U.S. trip was: "Mission Accomplished" -- reiterating George W. Bush's infamous assessment five years ago of the war in Iraq.
The posting has since been pulled from Stevens' blog.
Stelmach, queried on what the dead ducks will do to Alberta's environmental image, acknowledged people are lining up to take shots at the province.
"As we move closer to being the No. 1 supplier of energy in the world, we're going to have a considerable attraction, whether it be lobbyist groups, environmental groups," the premier said.
Stelmach tried to put the number of dead ducks in perspective, noting a minimum 30,000 birds are killed annually by wind turbines each year in the United States.
But it's the images of oil-soaked birds that could permanently stain Alberta's image, and the provincial government said Thursday it has no plans to release photos or videos of the birds and the tailings pond.
"The incident took place on a private property," said Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner, explaining there's privacy issues to deal with because it's not provincial land. "The question is not easily answered."
Liberal Leader Kevin Taft, however, accused the Stelmach Tories of "a cover-up." He insisted the province has an obligation to release any photos and videos of the dead ducks so all Albertans can see what's happening in the oilsands.
"It's not up to Rob Renner to be the judge here. He's the one being judged," Taft said. "They don't want the people of Alberta to know, and that's wrong."
Renner also backpedalled on whether fines or charges could be filed against Syncrude for failing to report the incident when it happened.
The government initially expressed serious concern over whether the company contacted the province, although Syncrude insists government officials were on site early Monday before the tip was called in.
"The issue of reporting, quite frankly, is irrelevant," Renner said.
© The Calgary Herald 2008
Dead ducks dent Alberta reputation
Not just an ecological disaster, but a PR one, too
Friday, May 02, 2008
A dead duck with oil oozing from its tiny carcass is as far from a Disney mascot as the province could ask for; especially now, when it's launching a massive public relations campaign to sell the world on Alberta's oilsands.
But it's a potent symbol of the public relations problems facing northern Alberta and the rampant oilsands development, expected to triple by 2015. Perhaps 500 dead waterfowl will be the catalyst the province needs to finally make environmental protection a higher priority.
The ecological disaster is devastating for everyone concerned, including the oil industry, about to face off with U.S. legislators over the acceptance of non-conventional crude.
The ducks, migrating over the oilsands, landed on a Syncrude tailings pond. Most died, and those that didn't left rescuers helplessly watching as the mallards dove back into the poisonous water, upon being approached. In all, only five survived.
The "tragedy" -- and that's how Prime Minister Stephen Harper described the event -- could well be the tipping point in the court of public opinion regarding the province's environmental record and its tarnished, dirty-oil image. The only hope Alberta has of turning it around is by doing what it says it's doing -- getting serious about being environmental leaders.
That means increasing its enforcement of existing rules and toughening up the rules whenever possible. It needs to move more aggressively in the widespread implementation of greener technologies that will lead to meaningful reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in the oilsands process.
Otherwise, the world will see right through the $25 million PR campaign. The amount of money is a pittance, anyway, when compared to the powerful news reports beaming around the globe, circulating on CNN, in the International Herald Tribune, online and in other international media that have carried the story.
Remember the oft-repeated graphic images of baby seals being beaten in Newfoundland? There was no countering that PR momentum, which devastated an indigenous community's livelihood and vilifies sealers to this day.
Alberta's massive oilsands development is under attack internationally because of the carbon dioxide emissions burned in order to separate the sticky bitumen from the soil. Now this.
While the world needs Alberta oil as much as Canada needs the prosperity it provides, increasingly the rumblings not just from fringe environmentalists, but state governments in the U.S., are questioning whether it's ethical to use Alberta's synthetic oil.
The dead ducks debacle should push the green agenda to the top of the government's immediate priorities by ensuring environmental regulations are strictly adhered to and research continues to sequester C02.
Both the federal and provincial governments are investigating the actions of Syncrude, the world's largest producer of synthetic crude oil. If found guilty, Syncrude should face the maximum $1 million fine.
The ponds are filled with oilsands wastes -- one of many necessary environmental tradeoffs in the production process. Because the oilsands sit on a major waterfowl migration path, it's up to the companies to ensure the birds are properly protected from mistakenly landing on their tailings ponds, confusing them for a safe resting place.
The method of scaring off the waterfowl is typically with the use of noise-making devices. Syncrude is blaming a recent snowstorm for a delay in deploying its 13 propane-powered cannons surrounding the pond. But perhaps it needs to find different devices that work in cold weather.
After all, if it's warm enough for the birds to be migrating, it seems reasonable to expect it should be warm enough to operate sound-making devices.
This is not just a tragedy for those birds but for the industry as a whole. How it's handled now can at least prevent similar events in the future and mitigate the the negative publicity as the Tory government takes its public relations pitch to the world stage.
© The Calgary Herald 2008
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500 ducks enter toxic pond and only 5 come out
Hanneke Brooymans and Jim Farrell
The Edmonton Journal; With files from the Calgary Herald
Published: Thursday, May 01
FORT MCMURRAY - Syncrude has vowed to take measures to avoid a repeat of a problem that made international headlines this week when an estimated 500 migrating ducks died after landing on one of its tailings ponds.
The company found only five ducks worth trying to save, and sent them to a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Edmonton. Three oil-soaked birds -- two mallards and a small bufflehead diving duck -- arrived by plane on Wednesday for the cleaning, medical treatment and weeks-long recovery period that could save their lives.
Syncrude was criticized Wednesday by Fort McMurray environmentalist Ruth Kleinbub for failing to have noise makers on the Aurora tailings pond in time to scare away migrating waterfowl.
The pond is about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. Water is used to wash oil out of the sand, and the pond contains the leftovers of that process, called tailings, including sand, water, heavy metals and residual oil.
The birds that landed on the pond were quickly coated.
The company said most probably sank when they became covered in oil.
Kleinbub said the company should have had its deterrents, such as sonic cannons, in the field much earlier.
"The birds were here the first week of April," said Kleinbub, a member of the Fort McMurray Field Naturalists and a director of the Federation of Alberta Naturalists. A birdwatcher, she said she saw waterfowl returning to the area three weeks ago.
"I think it's absolutely ridiculous that they weren't ready."
Syncrude says it started deploying sonic cannons about a week ago, but had not been able to put anything out on the pond before the late spring storm.
Kleinbub said there's no reason to stagger the deployment of the cannons.
"That's something we're going to look into," said Steven Gaudet, Syncrude's manager of environmental services and land reclamation. "The deployment was fairly rapid, but not rapid enough. We regret that, and that's something we'll have a look at as we study the event."
Gaudet said a company operator first discovered the ducks around 9:30 a.m. Monday. The report was called in to the company's environmental office, then relayed to the province's fish and wildlife office by noon. The province had already received an anonymous tip about the ducks by that time and had left a message with Syncrude, Gaudet said.
The company was supposed to call Alberta Environment immediately.
When asked why Alberta Environment wasn't called right away, Gaudet said the company called the regulators it thought were best suited to handle the situation.
As for the timing of that call, Gaudet said: "Our initial activity is to get out into the field to witness and assess, and then to get to Alberta Environment or Fish and Wildlife or Sustainable Resource Development immediately to report it. I think, in this instance, a couple of hours to verify the numbers, to assess the situation, to get my environmental team on the ground was well worth it. I'd hate to be reporting in an unsubstantiated or a minor event that needs a major response.
* * * * * * * *
Apology doesn't let Syncrude off the hook, Stelmach says
More birds found on second pond at ConocoPhillips site near Fort McMurray
Kelly Cryderman, Karen Kleiss and Ben Gelinas
The Edmonton Journal; Calgary Herald; Canwest News Service
Monday, May 05, 2008
Premier Ed Stelmach says Syncrude isn't off the hook despite the fact the oilsands company placed full-page ads in major newspapers to apologize for an incident where about 500 ducks died in a toxic tailings pond.
"People may go through a stop sign and hurt someone, and they apologize, but that doesn't mean that there isn't the full investigation," Stelmach told reporters at a charity walk in Calgary on Sunday.
"You can apologize for the event, but we will continue to investigate the incident and make sure . . . to attach the responsibility for obviously a break-down somewhere."
Hundreds of ducks died a week ago today after they landed on a tailings pond at Syncrude Canada's Aurora mine north of Fort McMurray. The pond contains a toxic mix of byproducts left over after oil is washed out of the sand. Most of the ducks sank under the weight of the residue.
Stelmach couldn't predict the length of his government's investigation with certainty, but said it could take two weeks to a month.
"I don't know how soon we can get all the evidence," the premier said. "Once the investigation is complete the ministry of environment and SRD (Sustainable Resource Development) will decide the next steps."
In the weekend newspaper ads, Syncrude Canada Ltd. offered "a heartfelt and sincere apology for the incident on April 28th that caused hundreds of migratory birds to die after they landed on a tailings pond at our oil sands operation."
Syncrude's message, signed by the company's president and CEO, Tom Katinas, appeared in The Journal and several other newspapers Saturday.
"We are committed to making the necessary changes to our long-established practices to help ensure a sad event like this never happens again," the ad said.
Syncrude has said it had not set up noisemakers to scare away migrating fowl at the pond because of late winter storms.
Over the weekend, another bird was found dead and two were taken away for examination after they were found swimming on a pond at the Conoco-Phillips Surmont oilsands southeast of Fort McMurray.
Workers first noticed loons settling in their blowdown pond on Thursday. By Saturday, eight birds were swimming around in the salty water. One was soon found dead about 12 metres away.
So far, the cause of the bird's death is unclear. Two other birds were examined by a Fort McMurray veterinarian and kept overnight for observation, said ConocoPhillips Canada's Senior VP of Oil Sands, Matt Fox.
Some birds remain on the pond -- "still swimming around, apparently quite happily."
The water on the ConocoPhillips blowdown pond is very different from that of the Syncrude tailings pond where about 500 ducks were found dead last week.
While there is typically no oil in the blowdown pond, there is a fair amount of salt, lime and silica, Fox said. "I don't think it would be safe to drink."
Following warnings from Sustainable Resource Development of migratory birds flying into the area, ConocoPhillips installed horns, put wire across the pond, tied flags to the wire and set up scarecrows at the pond in late April. But it wasn't enough to keep the loons away.
Such measures were not required by Alberta Environment in this case, Fox said. The government determines whether deterrents must be set up on a case-by-case basis.
He thinks the birds settled in the pond south of Fort McMurray because it was one of only a few bodies of water not trapped under ice this weekend.
The water is used in a process that creates steam and tends to stay a few degrees above zero. It is 150 metres by 150 metres and two metres deep.
The environmental community continued Sunday to respond to the bird kills.
"The 500 deaths last week are just the tip of the iceberg," tar sands campaigner with Greenpeace Canada Mike Hudema said. "How many other incidents like this are there really?"
The recent reports of dead ducks are demonstrating to the public the potential environmental impact of the oilsands industry.
"The government needs to start admitting that some of the environmental problems we've been bringing up for years are a reality," Hudema said. "Work with us to try and come up with a solution that we can both live with."
A Canadian expert called in to help after last week's incident says Alberta needs a state-of-the-art facility for helping oil-covered wildlife that could be built for as little as $500,000.
Coleen Doucette of Focus Wildlife says such a facility would be the first of its kind in the province, and that Alberta could lead the country in taking steps to protect wildlife after oil spills.
"Canada is behind the curve, period," she said Sunday. "We do see a growing need here in Alberta for something permanent ... (and) it would be appropriate for Alberta to be a leader."
Doucette said states south of the border have built sophisticated mobile cleaning units for just over $500,000 and permanent facilities for around $1 million. The success rate in saving oiled wildlife is closely linked to preparedness, she said.
"The production is sophisticated, so the preparedness should be sophisticated," she said. "The public is going to expect that to happen."
Doucette spoke Sunday at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton's shelter, where Focus Wildlife staff were washing four rescued birds that had arrived from Fort McMurray in the past two days.
They were among six birds brought in. Two have died.
It was not clear whether the birds were contaminated in Syncrude's Aurora tailings pond, but the oilsands company contracted Focus Wildlife to manage the care of wildlife recovered from the site.
A black American coot flailed as veteran washer Bruce Adkins dipped it into a bucket of warm water mixed with Dawn dishwashing soap. Since 1984, he has travelled from Alaska to South Africa, rescuing thousands of birds, from eagles to penguins.
The first bucket quickly filled with muddy residue and the creature was lifted into one clean tub after another until its feathers were free of oil, a process that took more than 20 minutes. After rinsing, the bird was left to preen in a warm, dry place. It will gradually be re-introduced to the wild.
If the bird cannot survive in the wild, it will be euthanized, Doucette said.
© The Edmonton Journal 2008
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Ducks the new symbol of oilsands activism
Environmentalists expected to seize on Syncrude disaster as gov't tries to downplay it
The Edmonton Journal
Sunday, May 04, 2008
While the Alberta government and the environmentalists will each offer their own statistics, from greenhouse-gas megatonnes to river flow rates, the latest number -- 500 dead ducks in one of Syncrude's toxic tailing ponds -- has pretty clearly favoured one side of the great oilsands debate.
After years of issuing reports on the impact of global warming on boreal forests, environmental groups realize no other statistic or fact may be as potent a wakeup call.
"Just the flashpoint of 500 birds -- there's that emotional response and people realizing the vast toxic lakes they might have been unaware of previously," said Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute environmental think-tank.
"It's fair to say that most people worldwide have a dim understanding of the oilsands currently and images like this help to educate people. The more people know about the oilsands, the less they like it."
But Premier Ed Stelmach is trying to punch back, to defend the province's $100-billion-plus industry and his own government's environmental record.
His government recently announced a forthcoming $25-million "branding" campaign, and last week Stelmach dispatched his deputy premier to Washington, D.C., to help buff the province's green image.
As the week wore on and photos of oily ducks hit front pages and newscasts, Stelmach tried to downplay the issue with what he called perspective.
"It's well known that on an annual basis, the minimum number of birds killed by wind turbines is around 30,000 (in the United States)," he said Thursday.
Asked about that, Environment Minister Rob Renner replied he's concentrating on probing the Syncrude tragedy.
In March, his department released a 20-page promotional booklet titled Alberta's Oil Sands: Opportunity. Balance. Inside, positive stats abound that try to position Alberta's oilsands development as environmentally responsible. The booklet features pictures of water, trees, minimally smoky smokestacks, and no open-pit oilsands mines.
Contrast that with an Environmental Defence report earlier this year, which even Dyer admits is "provocative." Title: The Most Destructive Project on Earth. It contains repeated mentions of the Exxon-Valdez oil-tanker spill -- an ecological disaster that Stelmach last week said cannot possibly be compared to the Syncrude incident.
Which side to trust -- the government or green organizations?
"I know it sounds trite, but they've got different sets of priorities," said Andre Plourde, a University of Alberta economist and expert in energy policy and the environment.
"And I'm sure that the truth is somewhere in the middle of that story. It's hard to get, I think, the relevant information that we would need to make up our minds on a number of the issues."
Much of that is because the major oilsands firms view much of the data as proprietary and private, Plourde said.
But there's obviously a lot of exaggeration, he said. For example, the government claims "world-class" leadership on the oilsands, even though its climate-change goals are much weaker than most other international targets and no other country deals with the same resource on this level.
"It's difficult to take seriously some arguments on both sides," he said.
Plourde also took aim at environmental arguments that oilsands are the only source of rising greenhouse-gas emissions. (Dyer said they are the fastest-growing source in Canada.)
It's equally difficult to determine which side people believe. Voters elected the Tories in a landslide in March, but just before that a poll suggested Albertans have values counter to the party's longstanding policies against slowing oilsands growth.
The Leger Marketing survey suggested that 62 per cent think the government should limit the overall amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by oilsands, even if it means some projects would be delayed or cancelled.
Good: As viewed by the Stelmach gov't
Oilsands; Alberta as clean-energy exporter.
Responsible development that allows economic growth and protects the environment. No "touching the brake"; all projects have been approved.
Clean metal pipes, trees, big trucks, hiking trails, aerial views of the river.
Up to 90 per cent of water (in tailings) can eventually be recycled, depending on the maturity of the facility and type of extraction. Tight consumption limits on Athabasca during low-flow periods.
About 65 square kilometres of disturbed lands is currently being restored; first-ever reclamation certificate was given to Syncrude's Gateway Hill, a 104-hectare site now home to nature trails, spruces and wild deer. Could take up to 50 years, but reclamation is required by law.
Regulators thoroughly inspect pond locations and take careful steps to avoid seepage. Clear rules to keep birds away. New projects will produce fewer tailings, and millions of dollars worth of research is spent to clean them up.
Extensive testing shows no signs of higher risks for communities downstream.
Will launch full investigation, prosecute if necessary and fine up to $1 million; but was rare event, and 30,000 birds killed each year in North American wind turbines by comparison.
Only 20 per cent of oilsands will be mined; rest will be done with less disruptive "in situ" wells. Mine-able oilsands will only cover 3,500 square kilometres, or one per cent of Alberta's boreal forest.
In big picture, causes only four per cent of Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions, and less than one-tenth of one per cent of global emissions.
Carbon-dioxide emissions down 45 per cent per barrel since 1990.
Enforce North America's first "intensity" targets to reduce industrial carbon output. Already saw 2.6 million tonnes of reductions. By 2050, despite massive growth, total emissions will be 14-per-cent below 2005 levels.
Practical technology with potential for greatest climate-change reductions. Being studied for widescale use, money set aside to help it. By 2050 can help province with carbon cuts equal to taking 42 million cars off road. Oilsands would emit less carbon than conventional oil.
Will develop plan that addresses oilsands' overall impact on region, rather than on project-by-project basis. "Science-based targets" to protect land, water, air.
Bad & Ugly: As viewed by environmental groups
Tarsands; Alberta's dirty oil.
Out of control. Stop approving new projects until environmental house in order; Polls say Albertans agree.
Aerial views of giant black mines, maze-like smokestacks and now, ducks.
Two to four barrels of water used to extract each barrel of oil, much of it winding up in tailings ponds. Almost 16 per cent of Athabasca River flows used in winter.
A swath of boreal forest larger than Florida could be disturbed for oilsands; Gateway Hill was an earth-dumping site -- far more difficult to reclaim bitumen mines or tailings ponds, and they won't be restored to original state as forest or marsh lands.
Like vast toxic lakes covering an area of 50 square kilometres, and no set way yet to remediate them. Risk of a dam breaking and spilling the oily, chemical sludge into Athabasca River.
Rates of bile-duct cancer, other diseases in Fort Chipewyan high.
Becoming a symbol of what is wrong with oilsands, from tailings to government oversight to development rate.
In situ, while better than mining, will see thousands of production plants, pipelines and access roads across up to 21 per cent of Alberta. Will disrupt habitats of many wildlife species in sensitive boreal areas.
Fastest growing source of Canada's emissions increase. Almost half of the emissions growth will be from oilsands between 2003 and 2010.
Alberta's total emissions up more than 37 per cent since 1990.
Province to let emissions keep climbing for next
12 years, as most places vow cuts. Per-barrel "intensity" targets let overall emissions grow. Targets -- including the much-criticized ones from Ottawa -- much weaker than those in Europe.
Promising technology. But federal rules will only require new projects to capture carbon, and not until 2018. Lets oilsands cut emissions, but doesn't address other impacts. Taxpayers shouldn't subsidize industry's cleanup efforts.
Have been asking for these assessments for years. Waiting to see if limits are strict, but the environment already at tipping point in some respects.
© The Edmonton Journal 2008
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Syncrude ducks critics at its peril
Friday, May 02, 2008
The most infamous tailings pond on earth is in lockdown. No TV crews allowed, no reporters, no pictures -- nothing. You'd think Syncrude Canada had Chernobyl on its hands rather than a flock of dead ducks.
Tim Gray, corporate security adviser for Syncrude, sent out a confidential e-mail memo to staff that says:
"Although this is certainly a very sad incident, it is our responsibility to ensure that the best interests of Syncrude are maintained."
The leaked message, obtained by the Herald, says any "suspicious activity" is to be reported and "there is to be no photography on site."
Entitled "Extra Vigilance," it calls for stepped-up patrols, quick reporting of unusual activity and alerts of overhead flights.
A top crisis expert says this is exactly the wrong way to handle the spreading story of wildlife being killed by the oilsands.
"The way you handle it is to invite people in, show them what you've got, and ask for their help," says Jim Stanton, president of Jim Stanton Associates, who trains people all over North America on handling crisis situations.
"You have to be completely open. Understanding and awareness are always better than suspicion and uncertainty.
"I would have brought in the reporters and the environmentalists, too, shown them everything, and asked for their help in making things better."
Stanton has handled communications for major public disasters, including the Swissair crash off Nova Scotia that killed 229 people in 1998.
In the memo, staff are urged to "pay particular attention for suspicious activity" at several locations.
"I trust that each team will ensure that extra patrols are made during the day and night shifts," Tim Gray writes.
"Day shift at Aurora will make themselves very aware of any activity around the tailings pond and will alert the main gate should unknown aircraft pass over this area."
Reached on the phone last night, Gray would say only that this is "standard procedure."
Standard military procedure, maybe. But this is wildlife, not war.
Syncrude is ensuring that when photos do get out (and they surely will) they'll be billed as the pictures Alberta tried to hide from the world.
Alberta Environment is also refusing to release photos, although plenty are being taken by department officials.
"This is an active investigation and we don't want to prejudice any court case by releasing photographs," says department spokeswoman Kim Capstick.
I'm trying to imagine a judge in a civil case being prejudiced by a photo of a duck. It seems unlikely.
What they've got bottled up in there is the company's reputation, and Alberta's too. Everybody seems worried it will escape to be twisted by the world.
"This is a complete overreaction," Stanton says. It's taking a sledgehammer to a gnat."
But Syncrude public relations adviser Alain Moore says the company isn't trying to hide anything.
"We want to ensure safety of our employees and visitors who are trying to enter our site.
"The pond is in a very remote location and it's difficult to get to, requiring expert drivers."
Because of all the government people investigating, he adds, the company doesn't have the time or people to tour reporters around.
He notes that aircraft with media have already flown overhead.
But the internal security memo doesn't say a thing about danger to visitors. It talks about keeping people out to prevent photographs.
In the world of the internet and lightning communications, this is exactly how to turn a problem into a disaster.
© The Calgary Herald 2008
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