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Dirty Business: The Tar Sands of Alberta and Toxic Waste

Posted by mhudema on September 25, 2008

Dirty Business: The Tar Sands of Alberta and Toxic Waste

Dirty Business
The Tar Sands of Alberta and Toxic Waste

By Andrew Nikiforuk; September, 21 2008 – Znet
http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/18878

Fred McDonald, a Métis trapper and storyteller extraordinaire, often questioned the reasoning and science behind the proliferation of toxic ponds and end-pit lakes. Before he died in 2007 of kidney failure, McDonald lived in Fort McKay, an Aboriginal community 72 kilometres north of Fort Saskatchewan. The stench of hydrocarbons from the surrounding mines often hangs heavily in the air there, and in 2006, an ammonia release from a Syncrude facility hospitalized more than 20 children.

On a fall day in 2006, McDonald sat in his kitchen, sipping a glass of rat root juice (“It’s good for everything,” he told me) and breathing through an oxygen tube. The day before, he had spent several hours on a dialysis machine. McDonald’s kidneys were failing but not his mind. He recalled the days when Tar Island was a good place to fish and hunt. (Tar Island was so named by local Cree and Métis after the bitumen that often oozed down its banks. In the late 1960s, Suncor transformed the island into a tailings pond, the first in the tar sands.) “It always had moose on it. We loved that island. We are slowly losing everything.”

McDonald was born on the river, and he had trapped, fished, farmed and worked for the oil companies. He fondly remembered the 1930 and 1940s, when Syrian fur traders exchanged pots and pans for muskrat and beaver furs along the Athabasca River. Families lived off the land then and had feasts of rabbit. They netted jackfish, pickerel and whitefish all winter long. “Everyone walked or paddled, and the people were healthy,” McDonald said. “No one travels that river anymore. There is nothing in that river. It’s polluted. Once you could dip your cup and have a nice cold drink from that river, and now you can’t.”

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Another Spill at Suncor

Posted by mhudema on July 17, 2008

Suncor pipeline spill results in shutdown

By CAROL CHRISTIAN
Today staff
Thursday July 17, 2008

It’s estimated that up to 1,260 barrels of diesel fuel was spilled as a result of a leak from a Suncor Energy pipeline Tuesday morning about 40 kilometres north of Lac La Biche.
“It’s a very considerable size spill,” said Darin Barter, Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) spokesman this morning. He added the pipeline was shutdown immediately after the leak was first noticed by staff at Suncor’s Pipeline Control Centre in Sherwood Park.
The pipeline, which remains out of operation, carries product from Fort McMurray to Edmonton. It is one of the company’s original pipelines, installed about 40 years ago.
“The positive thing that out of what is a bad situation is that it’s all on dry land,” he said. “There are no water bodies that have been affected, and there’s been no evacuations.
“The ability to clean in that area is very good.”
The ERCB is monitoring clean-up operations at the site of the leak. All other appropriate authorities and agencies have been notified.
As is normal practice, the ERCB, the oilsands primary regulator, will conduct an investigation into the incident.

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Initially, the clean-up involves the use of vacuum trucks, which were on site Wednesday. Barter acknowledged there is going to be some soil contamination in the top levels. He predicted that soil will likely have to be removed to a certain depth, and taken to a waste management facility for proper disposal.
Barter noted Suncor will not be able to resume operating the pipeline “until they can prove to us that it’s safe to operate.”
At this time, Suncor has said production from its oilsands facility is not affected.
The ERCB reported no injuries as a result of the leak, and there is no danger to the public from the release.
Suncor staff first noticed the leak at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The ERCB was subsequently notified at approximately 4 p.m. that day.
That notification delay will form part of the investigation.
“Notification to us is very important,” said Barter. “The ability for a company to identify, take immediate steps and notify the ERCB is very important to us. That gets action happening. We can contact other government agencies, emergency services if the company hasn’t already done so. So that notification to us is absolutely paramount.”
Shawn Davis, Suncor spokeswoman, noted the time delay was due to the fact Suncor staff had to travel to the leak area to confirm the spill.
According to the ERCB, the pipeline failure rate in Alberta was at a record low 2.1 failures per 1,000 km of pipeline in 2007, down more than 30 per cent from 2000 when there were 3.3 per 1,000 km.
There are 392,000 km of ERCB-regulated pipeline in Alberta.
In 2007, the ERCB conducted 1,647 pipeline inspections.

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Hundreds of ducks dead or dying after landing on tailings pond

Posted by mhudema on April 30, 2008

Breaking News

Updated: April 30, 2008 at 08:11 AM CDT

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Hundreds of migrating ducks are dead or dying after landing on a tailings pond owned by Syncrude Canada Ltd. and ice surrounding the small lake full of toxic sludge is hampering rescue efforts.
More National Breaking News

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach was visibly angry Tuesday as he questioned why noise-making canons were not deployed to scare the waterfowl away from the pond filled with oilsands wastes.

“The problem here is that there’s ice around the pond and you can’t just push a boat in (to rescue some of the birds),” said the premier. “The company will have to lower the boats by crane into the water.”

Company and government officials estimate there are roughly 500 birds trapped in the toxic pond in a disaster that has never before been witnessed in the northern Alberta oilsands region.

“Many of them will die as a result of this incident,” said Syncrude spokesman Alain Moore. The birds landed on the pond Monday.

Moore said the company is working with Alberta Fish and Wildlife in hopes of rescuing some of the birds.

“Our CEO is taking a personal commitment to lead this investigation team because it’s definitely a top priority at Syncrude,” he said.

But Environment Minister Rob Renner told The Canadian Press late Tuesday that it’s now looking doubtful that any of the birds can be saved.

Renner explained that the surviving birds are diving under the toxic water when approached, making recovery nearly impossible.

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