ACFN Worried Over Tailings Leaks

On January 31st, approximately 5,300 cubic meters of industrial wastewater spilled into the environment from Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake site. When the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) was informed of the event, they were also told that tailings water has been seeping from containment areas at Kearl Lake for nearly a year. Chief Allan Adam is expressing deep concern over the failure of Alberta’s Energy Regulator (AER) to inform ACFN of the ongoing tailings leaks.

“They’ve been keeping this information from the public, instead of protecting the environment and the downstream Indigenous communities,” says Chief Allan Adam.

Chief Adam believes that the Energy Regulator would have immediately informed the public of ongoing seepage had it happened elsewhere in the province. The Chief says the incident is an example of environmental racism.

“Imperial and AER have failed to protect the public,” says Chief Adam.

Imperial Oil’s Vice President of Oil Sands Mining, Jamie Long is issuing a statement expressing regret that their communications did not meet the expectations of the ACFN community. Imperial Oil says their monitoring indicates that there has been no measurable impact to local waterways. Long says they are working to determine the cause of the seepage and are already implementing actions such as additional monitoring and pumping wells.

On February 27th, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation contacted the RMWB to express concern about the quality of municipal water in Fort Chipewyan due to the spill and seepages at the Imperial Oil site. A spokesperson for the RM says they take such concerns very seriously.

As a precaution, the Municipality has stopped drawing water from Lake Athabasca. The community is now receiving water from raw water ponds, and specialized testing is underway to look for specific chemicals that may have been released due to the leaking at Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake Site. Current testing shows the tap water is safe to drink, and the RM is inviting any residents with concerns to call The Pulse line.

Alberta’s opposition party is voicing its concern over the incident. NDP Critic for Indigenous Relations says that he is appalled that the Alberta Energy Regulator did not tell the ACFN about the tailings seepage. Calling it a blatant violation of ACFN’s treaty rights, the NDP is calling on the Premier to answer questions about when she learned about the contamination.

Mix News made multiple attempts to reach the Alberta Energy Regulator but they have not responded to our requests for comment.

Update: AER released a statement saying on February 6, 2023 they issued an Environmental Protection Order (EPO) requiring Imperial Oil to ensure measures are in place to safeguard, contain, and monitor these priorities. On February 7, AER says they notified ACFN of the EPO issued.

AER stated the Imperial Kearl matter is under an active investigation.

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