Posted on April 24, 2013 (updated: June 20, 2019)

Environmental groups request federal action over Suncor spill

EDMONTON – One month after a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands operation leaked 350,000 litres of toxic wastewater into the Athabasca River, Ecojustice, on behalf of five environmental organizations, is calling on the federal government to investigate and potentially lay charges against the energy giant.

“The information available thus far indicates that there is sufficient evidence to establish that a violation of the Fisheries Act has occurred,” said Melissa Gorrie, staff lawyer at Ecojustice. “The federal government has the legal authority to hold Suncor to account for polluting one of Alberta’s biggest rivers, but whether it has the will to actually do so remains to be seen.”

Ecojustice submitted a letter today to Environment Canada and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada on behalf of Council of Canadians, Greenpeace Canada, Keepers of the Athabasca, Public Interest Alberta, and Sierra Club Prairie requesting that charges under the Fisheries Act be laid against Suncor.

Section 36 of the Fisheries Act prohibits the deposition of deleterious substances into fish-bearing waters; the Athabasca River is home to more than half of Alberta’ fish species.

Earlier this month, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD)confirmed that the toxic wastewater released in Suncor’s March 25 spill “did not meet all parameters of the [Alberta Surface Water Guidelines], and did not pass the standard 96-hour rainbow trout acute toxicity test…” In a blog post on its website AESRD stated that pyrene was present at twice the chronic guideline for aquatic life, with ammonia, chloride and various trace metals (e.g. arsenic, cadmium and zinc), also present above the chronic aquatic life guidelines. The province’s full laboratory results have yet to be released.

“Even though the tar sands are one of the biggest industrial projects on the planet, Canadians can’t get definitive answers on what’s being released into our air and water,” said Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “The Federal government likes to talk tough when it comes to the tar sands — it’s time some of its actions matched its rhetoric.”

Meanwhile, the full extent to which oilsands pollution impacts the Athabasca River – and by extension the people and wildlife that depend on it – remains unclear, due in great part to the federal government’s weak monitoring and reporting requirements. Earlier this spring, Ecojustice released research linking toxic emissions from oilsands facilities to ongoing contamination of the Athabasca River.

“Incidents like this illustrate the very real risks associated with oil sands operations. Canadians have the right to know how oilsands production impacts our air, water and land,” said Gorrie. “The federal government must do a better job monitoring and tracking oilsands pollution, and where necessary, the federal government must be ready to enforce its laws and ensure that our health isn’t being put at risk.”

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