Alberta didn’t live as much as the terms of a deal it has with the Northwest Territories to tell it about threats to its shared watershed after two major oilsands tailings spills, the territory’s environment minister said Friday.
Shane Thompson said the shortage of communication isn’t encouraging as Alberta and the federal government work out the terms under which tailings might be treated and released into the Athabasca River.
“The bilateral agreement says Alberta is presupposed to advise us with any ecological changes that occur they usually didn’t try this,” he said.
“This event underlines our position. The federal government of the N.W.T. won’t support the discharge of tailings unless rigorous science shows do it.
“We also must see the science.”
Employees at Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake oilsands facility first reported seepage from a tailings pond last May to the Alberta Energy Regulator.
A second release of at the least 5.3 million litres of wastewater was reported in early February from a storage pond. That makes it, by itself, one in every of the biggest spills in Alberta history.
The tailings leaked onto muskeg and forest in addition to a small lake and tributaries of the Firebag and Muskeg rivers.
The wastewater exceeds federal and provincial guidelines for iron, arsenic, sulphates and hydrocarbons that might include kerosene, creosote and diesel.
The seepage, the quantity of which hasn’t been estimated, continues.
Thompson said his government was never officially notified concerning the spill, despite the 2015 legally binding Mackenzie Basin Bilateral Water Management agreement with Alberta.
That agreement emphasizes several times the importance of mutual and prompt notification of changes on the watershed, including during an emergency.
“The protocols will be certain that the party inside whose jurisdiction the emergency originates will, at once, notify the opposite partner,” it says.
Thompson said he met several times together with his Alberta counterpart Sonya Savage — who was previous the province’s energy minister — after the leak was first reported and before Feb. 6, when the Alberta Energy Regulator issued an environmental protection order.
“At no time limit did that conversation come up,” he said.
Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said he’s deeply concerned concerning the reports concerning the Kearl mine tailings ponds.
He said his first thoughts are for the health and well-being of families in Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and other affected communities.
“I actually have reached out to each Chief (Allan) Adam from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in addition to my counterpart in Alberta, Minister Sonya Savage, to resolve the situation from their perspectives and offer the unwavering support of the federal government,” Guilbeault said in a press release.
Guilbeault said federal enforcement officers from his department might be given all of the resources needed to proceed their independent assessment, under the jurisdiction of the federal Fisheries Act, to find out next steps.
“We want to see a transparent remediation plan from the corporate and to raised understand the apparent failures of communication for the notification of this spill,” he said.
“Rebuilding a relationship based on trust will take a concerted effort, in addition to transparency, collaboration and industry investment.”
Savage said Alberta’s United Conservative Party government is monitoring the situation and he or she and Premier Danielle Smith have been briefed by the province’s regulator.
“We understand from them that remediation is underway, and no contaminated water has entered into the water system or affected human health or wildlife,” Savage said in a release.
“The Government of Alberta is standing by to help the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and other communities in any way needed should or not it’s required, and we stay up for the outcomes of the AER investigation.”
Neither government has indicated once they first learned of the leak.
This just isn’t the primary time the N.W.T. has expressed frustration with its upstream neighbour.
In August 2020, the territory was unhappy about not being told Alberta had suspended environmental monitoring on the Athabasca on account of COVID-19 concerns. Monitoring was later resumed and still continues.
Now, Thompson said the territory isn’t playing a large enough role in developing regulations for the eventual release of treated oilsands tailings water into the river.
“We want the science that they’re presupposed to share with us,” he said. “It needs to be transparent.
“We’ve began the conversation, (but) we would like it to be more regularly.”
Meanwhile, a second First Nation has complained about being poorly informed concerning the spills on lands they harvest from.
On Thursday, Chief Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said he only learned of the extent of the spill after the Alberta Energy Regulator issued the environmental protection order and accused Imperial of attempting to cover it up.
Friday, the Mikisew Cree First Nation said it had been treated the identical way.
Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro said the failure to maintain his band posted is a failure by the Alberta Energy Regulator. Scientists warned of the likelihood of seepage from the bottom under the tailings pond when the project was first approved, he said.
“The AER and Canada approved Imperial’s project knowing the chance of seepage for this tailing pond. There must be an independent review of the approval of this tailings pond and the AER’s management of this mess,” he said.