May 24, 2024

The 2020 and 2021 paperwork acknowledge tailings had been seeping from the ponds that had been speculated to comprise them.

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Paperwork filed by Imperial Oil Ltd. present the corporate and Alberta’s power regulator knew the Kearl oilsands mine was seeping tailings into groundwater years earlier than a pool of contaminated fluid was reported on the floor, alarming space First Nations and triggering three investigations.

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“They knew there was seepage to groundwater,” mentioned Mandy Olsgard, an environmental toxicologist who has consulted for space First Nations. “The (Alberta Power Regulator) and Imperial determined to not notify the general public and simply handle it internally.”

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Imperial mentioned in an announcement that seepage was anticipated in Kearl’s unique design. Spokeswoman Lisa Schmidt mentioned the corporate has stored each the regulator and space communities knowledgeable.

“We’ve been working to handle the areas of shallow seepage from our working lease space,” she mentioned. “We acknowledge there are considerations concerning water high quality, and we take this very critically.”

Alberta Power Regulator spokeswoman Lauren Stewart mentioned the company is dedicated to sturdy oversight of the Kearl web site.

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“It’s of upmost precedence that downstream water continues to stay secure, and any potential impacts to the general public are each mitigated and communicated transparently,” she mentioned in an e-mail. “Throughout this era, there have been no indicators that indicated the system was not functioning in accordance with its supposed design.”

Olsgard factors to groundwater monitoring reviews filed by Imperial to the regulator. The 2020 and 2021 paperwork acknowledge tailings had been seeping from the ponds that had been speculated to comprise them. The tailings had been detected at monitoring wells throughout the mine’s lease space, about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

Earlier research recommend these outcomes might have been influenced by pure variation or chemical processes within the soil. The 2021 doc says little room for doubt remained.

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“(Course of affected water) seepage, or potential early arrival of (such water), was reported at 11 monitoring areas in 2021, indicated by traits and/or (management goal) exceedances in a number of (key indicator parameters),” it says.

Substances discovered at concentrations above desired limits included naphthenic acids, dissolved solids and sulphates — a typical proxy for hydrocarbon residue. Oilsands tailings are thought-about poisonous to fish and different wildlife.

In Might 2022, the seepage was reported to First Nations and communities as discoloured water pooling on the floor. They obtained little info after that till final February, when the regulator issued environmental safety orders in opposition to Imperial — after which solely after 5.3 million litres of contaminated wastewater escaped from a holding pond.

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Olsgard mentioned the regulator had reviews of seepage as early as 2019. Imperial had instituted a “seepage interception system” in 2015. Stewart acknowledged seepage had been confirmed.

“Imperial initiated, and (the regulator) confirmed, mitigation actions that included activation of the (seepage interception system) and including extra pumping wells,” she mentioned.

4 pumping wells activated in 2021 to comprise the seepage “diverted” greater than a billion litres of groundwater, says the report. After that, key parameters dropped or stabilized at “most” areas.

“These unique interception pumping wells had been first activated in early 2021 in response to the detection of course of affected water above management aims, in accordance with authorised working procedures,” Schmidt mentioned. “Imperial shared this info with the (regulator) and communities in early 2021 and has supplied annual updates.”

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Groundwater within the space strikes at between three and 27 metres a 12 months. Some proof suggests tailings have seeped off the lease.

Knowledge filed to the Oilsands Monitoring Program exhibits sulphates at a sampling station within the Muskeg River started climbing drastically in March 2022. Inside a 12 months, they had been 18 occasions greater than the 2021 common.

That sampling station is south of the Kearl lease. The releases that trigged the safety order had been on the north facet. Schmidt mentioned these readings had been unrelated to tailings.

Stewart mentioned Imperial has elevated its monitoring frequency and is working to know the extent of the discharge.

The seepage at Kearl continues. Knowledge posted on the regulator’s web site exhibits a number of check wells proceed to indicate hydrocarbon ranges in floor water that exceed provincial environmental pointers.

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“There isn’t a indication of opposed impacts to wildlife or fish populations in close by river techniques or dangers to ingesting water for native communities,” Schmidt mentioned.

Over the summer time, Imperial expanded Kearl’s seepage interception with further pumps and drainage buildings. Monitoring continues.

“The (regulator) didn’t cease the seepage in 2022 they usually didn’t acknowledge it since 2019,” Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro mentioned in an announcement. “They are saying they’ve contained the seepage. They haven’t. The truth that they didn’t inform us concerning the seepage for 9 months is the tip of the iceberg.”

Each the Mikisew and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation use the world exterior the mine lease for conventional actions resembling searching and gathering. Each nations are downstream of the mine and say they worry for his or her water high quality.

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On Wednesday, the regulator’s board launched a third-party report by Deloitte into how the company dealt with communications across the releases. Though it discovered the regulator adopted its guidelines, it concluded these guidelines had been outdated, imprecise and had important gaps. Olsgard mentioned Deloitte’s investigation was particularly restricted to occasions occurring after Might 2022.

“They weren’t being given the authority to return to 2019, once I assume the groundwater was being contaminated.”

Imperial’s actions are additionally being probed by regulator employees in addition to federal investigators.  Tuccaro mentioned the regulator has denied Mikisew’s request for a stop-work order at Kearl. He known as {that a} double normal.

“The Alberta Utilities Fee and the Alberta authorities had no downside instituting a moratorium on renewable power tasks, however they gained’t take easy regulatory measures within the face of a recognized human and environmental well being downside.”

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The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has known as for the federal authorities to step in.

“We don’t imagine that the Kearl leak was an remoted incident, and we don’t imagine the regulator would inform the general public if one other incident occurred,” the band mentioned in an announcement.

The First Nation additionally has known as for a full technical audit of oilsands tailings amenities in addition to a long-term examine of well being impacts. Schmidt mentioned Imperial acknowledges shortcomings.

“We acknowledge that our communication up to now has not met communities’ expectations and we’re working with communities to enhance our communications.”

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