Alberta Tailings Management Plan Takes ‘Step in the Wrong Direction’
Alberta’s tailings management framework for tar sands/oil sands operations takes “a step in the wrong direction” by allowing industry to “sidestep taking meaningful action on one of the most pressing environmental issues of tar sands development,” NRDC Ford Fellow Jennifer Skene wrote Friday, after the long-awaited plan was released.
“For years, Alberta’s political leaders have promised to finally address the harmful legacy of the toxic tar sands tailings problem,” Skene writes. “But this latest framework is not likely to compel industry action to clean up the tailings in a meaningful way, especially given its lack of meaningful enforcement mechanisms.”
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Alberta’s tailings ponds currently contain 976 billion litres of material—enough to fill 390,000 Olympic swimming pools—and contain a stew of bitumen, napthenic acids, heavy metals, and other toxics. “There is significant evidence that the ponds are leaking into groundwater, which could be placing wildlife and communities at risk,” Skene writes.
Pembina Institute analyst Erin Flanagan said the management framework “represents progress on a high-profile issue long mismanaged in Alberta’s oilsands.” But while the framework’s objective is encouraging, “it will only be effective if matched with clear implementation and enforcement mechanisms.” Flanagan urged the Alberta Energy Regulator to “set firm limits and hold industry to account for existing and future tailings waste.”