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NEWS: Toxic tar sands tailing pond lacking critical barrier

CBC reports that, “A northern Alberta tailings pond appears to have toxic sludge flowing into the muskeg from an uncontained western edge, a situation uncovered by a CBC News investigation. The pond, located in a remote area about 70 kilometres northwest of Fort McMurray, contains toxic waste from the Horizon oilsands project operated by Calgary-based Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL). …According to documents obtained by CBC News, the company is relying on topography and clay beneath the surface to contain the tailings on (the western side) of the pond.”

“CNRL is legally permitted to have this setup. The plan was approved six years ago by Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB). But members of the Fort McKay First Nation are worried animals they traditionally hunt and trap may be drinking the water flowing from the tailings pond because there isn’t a barrier to keep them away. …Streams appear to flow toward and away from the tailings pond. Fresh deer and moose tracks are seen going towards the water. Muskrat dams are visible nearby.”

“The land beneath the forest floor is made of clay, which is believed to be a natural sealant. But (University of Alberta water expert David) Schindler says clay isn’t completely reliable and engineering tests often don’t account for holes created by tree roots or burrowing rodents. …Schindler expressed disbelief that regulators would approve this type of tailings pond.”

“CNRL did not make anyone available for an interview on the weekend, despite several requests for comment from CBC News. Environment Canada declined comment. A spokesman indicated in an email to CBC News that his department will assess the tailings pond to ensure it complies with federal laws.”

On November 4, the Council of Canadians joined with Greenpeace Canada and numerous groups to demand that “toxic tailings lakes be phased out immediately.” The petition states, “We are calling, with one voice, for the Alberta and the Federal government to address the growing and at times deadly impacts tar sands tailing lakes have by immediately denying all proposals that would require the creation of new tailings lakes and by legislating the complete phase out of existing tailings lakes because of the on-going and potential danger they pose to bird, animal, plant, aquatic and human populations.” The petition was signed by eighteen Council of Canadians chapters: Calgary, Edmonton, Campbell River, Comox, Delta/Richmond, Guelph, Inverness, Montreal, Nelson, Northumberland, West Kootenay, Peterborough and Kawarthas, Quill Plains, Regina, Surrey-Langley-White Rock, Vancouver/Burnaby, Victoria, and Whistler.

Today’s CBC report can be read at http://www.cbc.ca/canada/edmonton/story/2010/11/14/edmonton-tailings-pond-cnrl.html.