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Canada said on Thursday that it had opened an investigation into Imperial Oil Ltd, a unit of U.S. supermajor ExxonMobil, over seepage of oil from its oil sands production site that has endangered fish in the area.
“Environment and Climate Change Canada Enforcement has opened an investigation into a suspected contravention of subsection 36(3) of the Fisheries Act at Imperial Oil Ltd.’s Kearl Oil Sands Site,” the government said.
That particular subsection of the Fisheries Act “prohibits the deposit of a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish, or in any place where the deleterious substance may enter any such water,” it added.
Imperial Oil could be charged with non-compliance with the Act, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister, Steven Guilbeault, said at a news conference on Thursday.
“The process is underway to hold the company to account,” Guilbeault added.
The first seepage was detected in May last year. However, neither Imperial Oil nor the Alberta Energy Regulator kept local First Nations or provincial and federal environment officials briefed until February 2023.
In March this year, Canada issued a direction to Imperial Oil requiring immediate action to contain the seep and prevent it from entering a fish-bearing waterbody.
First Nations in early March demanded “accountability for the frequent and unprecedented failures of tailings dams, toxic tailing leaks and spills at the Kearl mine site – an oil sands mine in the Athabasca Oil Sands region north of Fort McMurray.”
According to representatives of First Nations, the unestimated seepage amount continued in March, and the wastewater exceeded federal and provincial guidelines for iron, arsenic, sulfates, and hydrocarbons that could include kerosene, creosote, and diesel.
“The government needs immediate and urgent action to protect people and the environment. Identify the causes of Imperial’s tailings breaches and find a resolution immediately. Imperial and the governments’ must contain Tar Sands’ toxic leaks,” Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine said in the March statement.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.