Approximately 500 migratory ducks are dead or dying in Alberta Canada because an oilsands company did not prevent them from landing on a manmade lake filled with toxic sludge. The offending company, Syncrude Canada Ltd., neglected to use propane-fueled noise-making cannons to scare the ducks away from the toxic ponds, as required by law. Further, they claim that ice surrounding the lake is preventing rescue efforts.
“This is the first time a large flock of birds has landed on a settling basin in Syncrude’s 30 years of operation,” the Syncrude press release stated, attempting to portray this incident as a freak accident.
Syncrude is reportedly working with Alberta Fish and Wildlife in hopes of rescuing some of the birds. However, it is unlikely that any of the remaining ducks will survive because they dive under the toxic oil-covered water when approached by their would-be rescuers, making recovery nearly impossible, according to Environment Minister Rob Renner.
“This is a tragedy and this is unacceptable and we’re going to do everything within our power to find out why it occurred and more importantly, to prevent it from occurring again,” Renner said.
Syncrude appears to be launching their own investigation, too.
“Our CEO is taking a personal commitment to lead this investigation team because it’s definitely a top priority at Syncrude,” claimed Syncrude spokesman Alain Moore.
Unfortunately, this statement is less than truthful because Syncrude officials did not report the incident to the government as they are required to do. Instead, the government was alerted by “an anonymous tipster” who called Monday night.
Additionally, the President and CEO of Syncrude, Tom Katinas, waited 24 hours before speaking to the press about this incident.
“If something has happened of this sort, then we feel that the company is obligated to report to the minister of the environment,” Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach pointed out. “It’s a condition of the licence.”
“As a government we mean business,” he continued. “When we issue a licence and there are certain conditions, the company has to make sure they conform to the licence.
“And deliver on the conditions of the licence,” the premier concluded.
Alberta Environment warned that fines of up to $987,000 could be levied against Syncrude if they did not have equipment in operation to scare birds away from the toxic pond. But even if such fines are levied (doubtful), this sum of money is only a trivial sum when compared to Syncrude’s total earnings, which are in the billions of dollars (in 2005, which is the last earnings statement that I could find).
“We’re investigating the incident and cooperating with Alberta government officials to determine how we can prevent a similar incident in the future,” said Katinas, conveniently overlooking the fact that they already know how to prevent such an incident; using noisemaking devices. Katinas then whined to the press that “the extreme winter weather conditions in the region” prevented Syncrude from activating the noisemakers, as required. As if it has never been cold and snowy in northeastern Alberta before.
Environment Minister Renner refused to speculate on whether his department’s investigation would take into account that heavy snowfall prevented the noise-making cannons from being deployed.
Interestingly, at the very same time that Syncrude’s incompetence and gross indifference were exposed by a tipster, Alberta Deputy Premier Ron Stevens is in Washington DC trying to convince congress that Alberta’s oilsands projects are being exploited in an “environmentally sustainable manner.” At the same time, environmental groups protest that the oilsands in northeastern Alberta produce “dirty oil” and they are developed at a huge cost to the environment, as this incident demonstrates.
Of course, congress has to consider the insatiable American appetite for more (and cheaper) oil. Industry officials estimate the region could yield as much as 175 billion barrels of oil, making Canada second only to Saudi Arabia in crude oil reserves.
Alberta’s oilsands are a mixture of mixture of sand, water, and extra heavy crude oil, also known as bitumen, a tarlike substance that is mined. After being extracted from these deposits, the bitumen is converted into a synthetic “sweet” oil using a distillation process that uses a lot of water — water that becomes toxic in the process and is dumped into manmade settling ponds, such as the one that the migrating ducks landed on this past Monday.
The Syncrude Project is a joint venture operated by Syncrude Canada Ltd. It is owned by Canadian Oil Sands Limited, ConocoPhillips Oilsands Partnership II, Imperial Oil Resources, Mocal Energy Limited, Murphy Oil Company Ltd., Nexen Oil Sands Partnership, and Petro-Canada Oil and Gas.
I can already hear all those greedy bastards licking their chops.
CNW group press release (quotes).