Toronto – A new report released today uses industry data to arrive at a conservative estimate of tar sands tailings ponds leakage into the environment. The report, 11 Million Litres a Day: The Tar Sands’ Leaking Legacy finds that over four billion litres of contaminated tailings water already enters the groundwater each year, and new projects could expand this number to over 25 billion litres within a decade.
Four billion litres would fill the Toronto Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome) two and a half times. 25 billion litres would fill it 16 times.

“This massive leakage from toxic tailings ponds are yet another reason why tar sands oil is dirty oil,” said Matt Price, Program Manager, Environmental Defence.

Tailings ponds are known to contain dozens of toxic contaminants like heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and naphthenic acids. Naphthenic acids in particular break down very slowly and therefore pose a long-term threat to the groundwater of the region. The tailings ponds sit upriver from the Peace-Athabasca Delta, one of the world’s largest inland freshwater deltas and home to Fort Chipewyan where residents already have serious concerns about pollution and their health.

Tailings ponds are built on bare ground with walls made out of earthen materials. Companies deploy measures to capture some of the leakage from the ponds, but these measures are imperfect. Company applications for new projects admit that leakage is lost to the groundwater, and these applications were used to arrive at the overall leakage rate.

Both Alberta and federal legislation prohibits the discharge of toxic materials into the environment, but tailings ponds leakage is sanctioned by the Alberta permitting process. The report calls on the Canadian government to enforce the federal Fisheries Act to end the leakage problem, given a pattern of inaction by Alberta.

“The destruction in the tar sands will not stop until the federal government steps in to enforce its environmental laws,” said Price. “Canadians should not have to carry the shame of being the producers of such dirty oil.”

11 Million Litres a Day: The Tar Sands’ Leaking Legacy, and the leakage calculations, can be downloaded for free on the Environmental Defence web site at

About Environmental Defence ( Environmental Defence protects the environment and human health. We research solutions. We educate. We go to court when we have to. All in order to ensure clean air, clean water and thriving ecosystems nationwide, and to bring a halt to Canada’s contribution to climate change.
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For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:
 Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)