Alberta officials are signalling they have no idea how to clean up toxic oilsands tailings ponds


More than one trillion litres of the goop, called tailings, fill these man-made waste lakes that can be seen from space. Karl Clark and Sidney Blair built a model oil sands separation plant in the basement of the University of Alberta power plant. The water ripples in the breeze. Drilling plant at Victoria, Alberta, Source:

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For example, a single mine inspection can take up to one week to complete; our professional engineers and environmental scientists often inspect these mines as a team. In some cases, we will shut down a facility. If this happens, the company is only allowed to restart its operations once the noncompliance is addressed.

We work with the Government of Alberta to manage the cumulative effects of oil sands development on air, water, land, and biodiversity at the regional level. Through regional planning , as well as other initiatives, Alberta is shifting to a more effective and efficient management system that considers the cumulative effects of all activities and improves integration across the economic, environmental, and social pillars.

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The AER is not responsible for any inaccuracies, errors or omissions in the information or data and is not liable for any direct or indirect losses arising out of any use of this information. The ponds also leak.

While companies are required to build dikes, wells and ditches to detect tailings, collect them and divert them back to their source, some appears to be trickling to groundwater. Findings from a study by Environment Canada researcher Richard Frank and a team of Canadian and British scientists indicated oilsands-tainted groundwater was likely reaching the Athabasca River, the government has said. A spokesperson told the Star it is not clear this seepage is harmful to the environment, and there is no definitive way to differentiate between groundwater that has been tainted by industry waste water and groundwater that has been impacted by naturally occurring bitumen deposits.

Trappers are afraid to eat the animals they catch, fearing that the wildlife may have drunk contaminated water. Am I keeping my family safe by eating this? Tailings ponds are also a source of air pollutants: Base Mine Lake is about 50 metres deep, most of it tailings.

The water ripples in the breeze. A herd of wood bison grazes nearby, a fence separating the animals from the waves lapping at the grassy shore. Mechanical falcons screech from platforms above the surface and the cannons boom.

Steam rises from the Syncrude plant on the horizon. Before capping the Base Mine tailings, Syncrude built smaller test ponds in , each holding 2, cubic metres of tailings and water. In the Lusatia region of Germany, former coal mines have been transformed into a glimmering recreational lake district. Alberta has had success with mostly former coal mines, including Quarry Lake in Canmore.

Base Mine Lake was approved and filled under stricter regulations and after years of research and modelling, said Jerry Vandenberg, a pit lake expert who is sometimes contracted to work in the oilsands. Water capping is an understandable pursuit, says freshwater scientist Neil Hutchinson, who worked as a lake scientist for the Ontario environment ministry and has advised industry and government on resource development projects across Canada since becoming a consultant.

Those mined-out pits are out there, too. Starting in , the AER will begin getting the additional water-capping information it requested from companies, plus their backup plans. Follow her on Twitter at EmmaMci. David Bruser is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: How about supporting more articles like this one in National Observer? The precautionary principle would suggest that the safety of an industrial process be proven before that process is employed on a commercial scale.

But our species stampedes over environmental cliffs like so many lemmings. Our country is littered with mine waste that has been left for the taxpayer to clean up.

See, for example, the Giant Mine at Yellowknife. The largest of these was glacial Lake Agassiz, a gigantic body of water encompassing an area of hundreds of.

Approximately 13, years ago, the banks of the lake were breached. A catastrophic outflow of water was released north through the Mackenzie River towards the Arctic Ocean.

This flood quite literally tore the top off the land and carved the deep river valleys of the region. It also revealed two resources that had lain hidden under layers of sediments for thousands of years—high-quality sandstone and the oil sands.

The former would become an essential resource for ancient lifeways, the latter for modern industry. The oil sands region contains abundant evidence of the effects of the outflow from glacial Lake Agassiz and its impact on human history. The massive release of water associated with this event scoured the Lower Athabasca River valley and created the braided channel deposits, gravel bars, and sinuous ridges that structured the ancient land use in the oil sands region.

It also revealed deposits of Beaver River Sandstone for making tools and weapons. Re-vegetation of this well-drained landscape created an open, productive ecosystem that was extremely attractive to big game animals and their ancient hunters.

The thick outcroppings of high-quality sandstone provided ancient hunters with. The Athabasca Oil Sands region thus became the focal point for one of the most intensive ancient uses of boreal forest regional environments yet identified in Canada. It was a hub of sandstone quarrying, tool manufacturing, hunting, and animal processing.

Echoes of the ancient history of the oil sands may be detected today, as the same flood that stripped off layers of sediment to reveal outcroppings of sandstone well-suited to ancient tool manufacture also revealed the thick exposures of oil sands so central to modern industry.

Known as asphalt, bitumen or pitch, the kind of heavy, viscous petroleum found in northern Alberta has a long and storied past. Although the oil sands have now become an essential economic commodity, they were little more than a curiosity to the fur traders. Using this Site Contact Us.