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Canadian Government Orders Oil Sands Firm To Contain Tailings Leak

The federal government of Canada has ordered Imperial Oil, the operator of the Kearl oil sands project, to contain a leak of tailings water that occurred last year but was only reported months later.

The tailings leak is harmful to wildlife as it contains dangerous levels of arsenic, metals, and hydrocarbons, the Globe and Mail reported, citing Environment and Climate Change Canada—the government agency in charge of environmental protection.

"Based on information enforcement officers have to date, the seep is believed to be deleterious, or harmful, to fish," a spokeswoman for Environment and Climate Change Canada said, as quoted by the National Observer.

“On March 10, 2023, enforcement officers issued a Fisheries Act direction to Imperial Oil. The direction requires immediate action to contain the seep and prevent it from entering a fish-bearing water body," she also said.

The testing of samples from the leak comes months after it actually began because the Alberta energy regulator, whom Imperial Oil informed about the leak as soon as it detected it, failed to pass on the message to the federal government until nine months later.

Unsurprisingly, the federal environment minister and head of Environment and Climate Change Canada said it was “very worrisome” that Alberta’s energy regulator had failed to inform the government about events at the Kearl mine.

Imperial Oil, meanwhile, said that it had installed water pumps at the site to prevent the leaked tailings from entering the nearby lake and plans to collect the fish from that lake and install a barrier to prevent more fish from migrating into the area, the Globe and Mail also wrote.

"We need to see a clear remediation plan from the company and to better understand the apparent failures of communication for the notification of this spill," Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said earlier this month, as quoted by Reuters.


The Kearl oil sands project has reserves of some 4.6 billion barrels of recoverable bitumen, according to Imperial Oil. Production at the facility began in 2013 and ramped up to 220,000 barrels daily in 2015.

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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