STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Toxic Water Released into River

Posted by mhudema on May 23, 2008

Alberta government plays down oil sands leak

The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is playing down a leak of nearly one million litres of tainted water into the Athabasca River from a wastewater pond at a Suncor oil sands site near Fort McMurray.

The Liberal opposition says the leak last year was the same volume as an Olympic swimming pool and involved water contaminated with oil and grease that left a sheen on the river.

Liberal environment critic David Swann said downstream communities were not notified for up to eight months after the September leak.

“There needs to be a serious attempt to let everyone know what’s happened, and what action has been taken,” Mr. Swann said. “They don’t need to wonder and worry about the future.”

The Liberals obtained a copy of a presentation that was shown to residents of Fort Chipewyan this month.

But Suncor spokesman Brad Bellows said the Liberals overlooked a section in the presentation that outlines how residents were informed.

“I don’t know the exact timing, but it would have been within hours, possibly a day,” he said.

Questioned by Mr. Swann in the legislature, Environment Minister Rob Renner said the leak did not come from an oil sands tailings pond like the one that killed 500 ducks last month.

Mr. Renner said this leak involved wastewater and storm water tainted with some traces of oil, and suggested the water was not heavily polluted.

Mr. Swann rejected that suggestion.

“This is not wastewater – oil and grease are a toxic blend. Wastewater does not cause a sheen to appear on the river, oil does.”

Premier Ed Stelmach told reporters that he would look into the leak and how and when residents were notified.

“I don’t know when they were told, and that’s one of the things I want to find out for sure,” he said. “And, again, what was the level of toxicity, if there was any.”

The leak happened when the pond’s water level fell low enough that grease or oil that had been sitting on the surface was pulled in, Mr. Bellows said.

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