Kearl field leak challenges government oversight

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Kearl deposit leak calls government oversight into question

Leaking of contaminants from the Kearl oil sands deposit in northern Alberta began in May.

Recent leaks of toxic tailings from oil sands mines in northern Alberta have exposed serious flaws in how Canada and Alberta are protecting the environment, experts say.


Everyone agrees that it is unthinkable that leaks from the tailings ponds of the Kearl field, operated by Imperial Oil, have not been reported for nine months in Ottawa and Edmonton, as well as people who live nearby.

They never took these risks and threats seriously, laments Martin Olszynski, a University of Calgary law professor and former federal resource regulation attorney

Imperial Oil discovered brown sludge near one of its Kearl tailings ponds in May and it became clear, over the course of the year. summer, that the problem was important.

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The biggest lesson from this is that the province exercises oversight and control over the information the federal government receives, comments Mandy Olsgard, a toxicologist who has worked on regulatory issues for the Alberta Energy Regulator and Indigenous groups.

Ottawa participates in review boards that assess projects, then leaves the rest of the matter to the province, she says.

Alberta, on the other hand, assigns the task to a regulatory body that many consider too close to the industry it is supposed to oversee.

< p class="e-p">This regulator has always thought its relationship was two-way, between itself and industry, with little regard for the public, argues Nigel Bankes, a retired professor of natural resources law at the University. University of Calgary.

This attitude is, according to him, omnipresent within the Alberta government. It's a general mentality not to play the spoilsport. It permeates the Department of Energy and it permeates the Department of the Environment.

A 2021 survey for Alberta Environment found that over 85% of the people of the province had little faith in the agency's ability to govern the coal industry.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, and his Alberta counterpart, Sonya Savage, recognized that things had to change. We need to find better mechanisms, acknowledges Minister Guilbeault.

New Alberta Democratic Party Environment Critic Marlin Schmidt is skeptical. He argues that the province and the regulator had previously refused to reveal to him the scope and timeline of the leak investigation.

I believe that' x27;It's time for Environment Canada to take a much more proactive role in tailings management, says Professor Olszynski.

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