Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

A Suncor tailings pond in Fort McMurray Alta, on June 13, 2017.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is investigating after Suncor SU-T reported the discovery of dozens of dead birds at an oil sands tailings pond.

The regulator said in a post on its website Saturday that Suncor informed them late Friday afternoon of 32 dead waterfowl found at a tailings pond 29 kilometres north of Fort McMurray at Suncor’s Base Mine Site.

The post said the energy company found the birds during an oil sands bird-contact monitoring program survey.

It noted that “the state of the wildlife indicates that this may not be a recent event, but this is under review.”

The post said Suncor has since advised it’s also found a muskrat and a vole, both dead.

The regulator said an AER inspector “was immediately on site” and, in addition to checking bird deterrence systems, the inspector will “ensure mitigation strategies are in place.”

“Collaboration between the AER, Suncor, Alberta Environment and Parks, and Environment Canada and Climate Change is under way to ensure that all safety, wildlife, and environmental requirements are met during the response to the incident,” the AER post stated.

“We will continue to assess the situation closely and provide further updates as required.”

Suncor spokeswoman Erin Rees said in an e-mail the birds were found during one of the company’s “regular, required checks.” She said appropriate regulatory authorities have been notified.

“At the time of discovery, all bird deterrent systems at Base Plant were active. Our Bird Deterrent Program includes canons, radar and effigies. We have initiated an investigation,” Ms. Rees said.

Incidents of bird deaths at oil sands tailings ponds over the years include 50 birds that landed at an Imperial Oil tailings area near its Kearl oil sands project in northern Alberta in May, 2020. Imperial said at the time it believed it occurred in spite of deterrents because most of the natural water bodies in the area were still frozen.

In January, 2019, Syncrude was fined more than $2.7-million after pleading guilty to environmental charges in the deaths of 31 great blue herons at one of its oil sands mines north of Fort McMurray in 2015.

Syncrude was also fined $3-million in 2010 after more than 1,600 ducks died when they landed on a tailings pond in 2008.

Earlier this week, Suncor Energy Inc. reported the release of six million litres of water from a sedimentation pond at its Fort Hills oil sands mine north of Fort McMurray that exceeded guidelines for sediment.

Suncor said it has stopped outflow from the pond and is studying the cause of the problem and how it affected water quality.

Timely notification of water releases from oil sands mines also became an issue earlier this spring.

Last May, Imperial Oil noticed discoloured water seeping from one of its tailings ponds that turned out to be groundwater contaminated by waste, but neither First Nations nor governments were notified about the problem until February after a second release from a catchment pond.

Three inquiries have since been called into that nine-month silence.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles