Ottawa, Ont. – After a ten-year wait, an investigation by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) clearly validates the charge by Environmental Defence, The Natural Resources Defence Council and Daniel T’Seleie of the K’ahsho Got’ine Dene First Nation that Canada is failing to enforce the Fisheries Act, thus allowing tailings ponds from oil sands operations to continue to pollute the Athabasca watershed and place the health of First Nations people, and the wildlife and ecosystems they depend upon, at risk.

It is unacceptable that the health and well being of First Nations are put at serious risk while oil sands operations continue to pollute without punishment. Canada must begin enforcing the Fisheries Act to prosecute these oil sands polluters and force them to clean up the over one trillion litres of tailings ponds that have been produced by oil sands operations.

The factual record produced by the CEC confirms the claims that Environmental Defence and partners made in this case. We argued that there is ample evidence, both from environmental monitoring and scientific publications, that toxic chemicals from oil sands tailings ponds are seeping into groundwater and rivers, including the Athabasca River and some of its tributaries. In the case of Syncrude, its own data confirms the chemical contamination from its tailing ponds.

The federal government says it is preparing regulations that will allow tailings ponds chemicals to be released into the Athabasca watershed, an approach endorsed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Instead, the federal government should take action to uphold the Fisheries Act to prosecute oil sands polluters and require the immediate clean up of tailings ponds.

Main findings of the factual record released by the CEC:

  • Data provided by Syncrude, and validated by scientists, show seepage of tailings ponds chemicals into groundwater adjacent to tributaries of the Athabasca River
  • There is experimental and monitoring evidence showing that tailings chemicals seep into freshwater, i.e. tailings water circumvent systems meant to capture it after it escapes tailings ponds
  • Two tributaries of the Athabasca River contained elevated concentrations of tailings chemicals
  • Academic research found that chemicals in the Athabasca watershed had the chemical fingerprint of tailings water
  • Courts have found Fisheries Act violations when a harmful chemical is put in a place where it may enter streams with fish
  • The federal government is responsible for enforcing the Fisheries Act, since there is no administrative agreement between the federal and Alberta governments giving the responsibility for enforcing the Fisheries Act solely to Alberta

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (www.environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: Allen Braude, Environmental Defence, abraude@environmentaldefence.ca