International Human Crime

The hundreds of square miles of forests in Canada ripped up for the extraction of tar sands is unbearable to see. Those images have been kept out of the mainstream media. As disturbing are the huge tailings ponds that hold the huge volumes of waste water contaminated during the extraction.

How to deal with that water is a problem that has been continually postponed. But now there are discussions about draining those lakes. Of course, the fossil fuel companies are saying they can clean the water, not to the level of drinking water, but “safe” enough for discharge into the Athabasca River.

Indigenous communities near these tailings ponds have long seen dramatically increased levels of cancer.

NAFTA Commission Probes Toxic Leaks from Tar Sands/Oil Sands Tailings Ponds

Some Indigenous communities in northern Alberta say they’re being handed a choice between terrible options as the federal government develops regulations to allow treated tailings from tar sands/oil sands operations to be released into the environment. One advocate is calling the prospect of tailings releases into the Athabasca River an “international human crime”.

It takes three to four barrels of water to produce one barrel of bitumen, CBC News reports. And under current rules, “companies must store any water used to extract oil during the mining process because it becomes toxic. The massive above-ground lakes are known as tailings ponds, which are harmful to wildlife and have resulted in the death of birds that land on the water, on multiple occasions.”

Indigenous groups in the northern part of the province have been concerned for years that tailings ponds could further pollute their land and drinking water, the news report adds. But with tar sands/oil sands production continuing, fossils intent on increasing their output, and the volume of toxic tailings now standing at about 1.4 trillion litres—the equivalent of 560,000 Olympic swimming pools stretching from Edmonton to Melbourne, Australia—the fossil industry and some scientists say the water “can be treated enough so it can be safely discharged”.

“First Nations and Métis Nations have complained for years how the oilsands, as well as other industries, have caused water volumes and quality to drop, which they say has caused fish populations to decrease sharply over the years and some species to disappear,” the national broadcaster writes. “Research has found elevated cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan, a community located north of Fort McMurray on the western tip of Lake Athabasca, and high levels of heavy metals, such as mercury, and arsenic in animals that are hunted and consumed in the region.”

That reality has fossils, regulators, and researchers worried about the risk of accidental release, with a dam failure or natural disaster triggering a torrent of toxic water. One such dam disaster in Brazil killed 270 people, CBC says. As they continue extracting bitumen, Alberta fossils are required to keep building tailings dams to hold the waste water in perpetuity, and “this scenario is not tolerable,” said Calgary-based water resources engineer Les Sawatzky.

Indigenous Communities Face ‘International Human Crime’ as Ottawa Considers Tailings Pond Releases, The Energy Mix, December 8, 2021

…That’s the sort of conundrum facing Albertans right now when it comes to the massive tailings ponds created by the province’s oilsands companies. Those ponds contain approximately 1.4 trillion litres of water, the equivalent of more than 560,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and it’s about to come rushing down the Athabasca River — one way or another.

According to a recent report, the federal government is in the process of developing regulations to allow oil producers to treat and release the water in those ponds, which contain toxic chemicals like mercury, ammonia and naphthenic acids. It’s not like the oil and gas companies that built and filled those ponds have just discovered a new way to make that water safe for the people living downstream. But the longer they’re allowed to collect and grow, the bigger the danger gets of an unplanned release — one that could be caused, ironically, by a climate change-aided weather event like the torrential rains B.C. just experienced.

For an industry that loves to talk about how comparatively “ethical” its operations are, this is a very bad look. After all, the small Indigenous communities downstream from Alberta’s oilsands operations have raised the alarm for years now about the environmental impacts they’re seeing, which range from dwindling fish and wildlife populations to elevated levels of certain cancers. As Bori Arrobo, Fort McKay’s director of sustainability, told CBC, “We don’t want to swap one environmental liability, which is the tailings ponds at the moment, for another, which could be the deterioration of the quality of the water in the Athabasca River and the downstream.”

Feds must protect Albertans from tailing ponds pollution By Max Fawcett, National Observer, December 9th 2021

One thought on “International Human Crime

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: