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Chief Adam angry over silence from Imperial after tailings spill

Last Updated Mar 3, 2023 at 6:48 am MST

Overland spill area. Photo taken on Feb 2, during a ACFN did a helicopter tour. (Photo Credit: Nick Vardy)

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam says he’s angry over not being notified for nine months after two separate releases from an oilsands tailings pond.

Chief Adam said a pond on Imperial Oil Ltd.’s Kearl mine was seeping into groundwater and onto the surface for nine months before his community was notified Feb. 6.

“Since May 2022, Imperial Oil and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) have covered up unprecedented failures of tailings dams and toxic tailings leaks and spill at the Kearl mine. They’ve been keeping this information from the public, instead of protecting the environment and the downstream Indigenous communities.”

At least 5.3 million litres of water containing toxic chemicals have been released and the seepage continues.

READ MORE: Imperial Oil mum on cleanup plan for tailings leak

The Alberta Energy Regulator says the company has complied with an environmental protection order.

Photo taken on Feb 2, during a ACFN did a helicopter tour. (Photo Credit: Nick Vardy)


Imperial said remediation efforts are ongoing and no wildlife was harmed, Chief Adam said it’s going to be hard for him to believe anything he’s told by either party.

“Imperial and AER have failed to protect the public. ACFN raised concerns about the tailings dams during the environmental assessment in 2007, but the AER approved them anyway. We were told that this wouldn’t happen. And then when it did happen, Imperial didn’t inform us, and the AER didn’t do anything to protect us.”

He added the AER failed to act for months when Imperial told them that toxic tailings were leaking in May 2022.

“What’s more, when the AER Issued a Notice of Noncompliance to Imperial in September 2022 it did so secretly. Both Imperial and the AER failed to give notice or take action to keep the public and Indigenous communities safe. Why are we being kept in the dark? Why didn’t Imperial or the AER inform the public and about these failures? There are no good answers to these questions, and that should make everyone, whether you are an investor, a citizen, or a harvester very concerned.”

Imperial has expressed regret for the release.

The risk of a tailings leak was pointed out in the mine’s original environmental assessment and a series of scientific reports dating back over a decade has suggested tailings are making their way into the landscape.

CityNews reached out to the province for a comment on the spill to which they responded.

“We are aware that the Alberta Energy Regulator has issued non-compliance and environmental protection orders regarding two separate tailings seepage and overflow incidents at Imperial Oil’s Kearl project site.”

The statement continued, “Oil sands operations are regulated by the Alberta Energy Regulator, and it would not be appropriate for the Alberta government to interfere with the compliance and enforcement actions of an arms-length regulatory body. We are monitoring the situation, but inquiries regarding these incidents and the AER’s response should be directed to the AER.”

-With files from the Canadian Press