Did you hear about the recent leak from Imperial Oil’s tailings “pond” in Alberta? Over 5.3 million litres of toxic wastewater spilled into the environment – enough to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools. This leak adds to the evidence that oil production in Canada’s tar sands is unsafe and harms biodiversity and downstream Indigenous communities.

The federal government must take a more active role in holding oil companies accountable for the safe containment and cleanup of their toxic waste. The tar sands’ tailings “ponds” contain over 1.4 trillion litres of toxic waste from oil production, covering an area more than two times the size of Vancouver.

Tailings ponds have been leaking for years

For years, Indigenous communities have raised concerns about the tailings leaking, and a report by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation published in 2020 corroborated their worries. Despite this, the Alberta and Federal governments have turned a blind eye to this case of environmental racism for over forty-five years, allowing disasters like Imperial’s recent leak to happen.

It was only after the Alberta Energy Regulator publicly announced that Imperial Oil had until the end of the month to come up with a suitable plan to stop the leak and address its consequences that the incident came to light. This announcement also revealed that a second uncontrolled release at the same facility had been occurring since May. 

The toxic waste leak is not just an isolated incident; it’s a sign of a much larger problem that has been ignored for far too long. The tar sands region has nineteen toxic tailings “ponds,” each of which poses a massive danger to human and ecological health. Governments have been negligent in allowing the problem to escalate to this point without requiring companies to provide plans for how they would prevent chemicals from reaching the environment and downstream communities.

Yet, there is still so much to fight for: the Athabasca River drains into the second-largest freshwater delta in the world and has immense ecological value. The Indigenous communities downstream of the oil sands have worked hard to maintain land-based teaching and an ability to practice traditional ceremonies despite the industry’s takeover. It’s time for the government to prioritize the safety and well-being of Indigenous communities and the environment by holding the oil industry accountable for the destruction they cause. 

You can demand the federal government intervene to stop tailings pollution:

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