Review of Alberta Energy Regulator’s handling of major tailings leak reveals regulatory system is designed to fail Indigenous communities and the public

Toronto | Traditional territories of the Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Chippewas and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation – Today, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) released the results of a review regarding its handling of two incidents that occurred at Imperial’s Kearl Oil Sands mine earlier this year, resulting in over 5.3 million litres of toxic tailings spilling into the environment. The review concluded that “the AER followed the existing policies, standards, procedures, and/or processes” even though it did not notify Indigenous nations of the incident for nine months, leaving them unaware of the risks of consuming water and game harvested in the area.


“It is shocking that the AER is refusing to admit to any wrongdoing by hiding a massive toxic leak from impacted communities and the public. This is further evidence that the AER is a captured body designed to protect industry, even if it means endangering the public. The Imperial Oil leak and cover-up were not a mistake, they were a direct result of the broken regulatory system in Alberta. It is appalling for the regulator to take no responsibility for such an egregious failure. We stand in full solidarity with the Indigenous nations calling for a dismantling of the AER. This review highlights the urgent need for the federal government to use the tools at its disposal to step in and address the issue of toxic tailings,” said Aliénor Rougeot, Climate and Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defence Canada.

“The Alberta government is fast-tracking climate change and environmental destruction with irresponsible and unsustainable extraction of resources, and the people in this province are bearing the consequences, with Indigenous communities being particularly hard hit. The AER is directly complicit in this destruction and needs to be dismantled. We demand it be replaced by a co-governing body where Indigenous communities have authority and can take leadership. The current way of doing business is severely outdated,” said Jesse Cardinal, Executive Director of Keepers of the Water.

Background information:

  • Imperial Oil had informed the AER about the first incident in May 2022 but hid this information for nine months from the Indigenous nations who rely on the area for sustenance and cultural practices, leaving them unaware of potential risks.
  • It was only when a second incident occurred in February 2023 that the concealment of the initial spill came to light.
  • Indigenous and environmental groups sent a letter to the federal and Alberta governments, calling for accountability for the disaster, such as an overhaul of the AER and bringing federal charges under the Fisheries Act.

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

About KEEPERS OF THE WATER (keepersofthewater.ca): Keepers of the Water are First Nations, Métis, Inuit, environmental groups, concerned citizens, and communities working together for the protection of water, air, land, and all living things within the Arctic Ocean Drainage Basin.

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Paula Gray, Environmental Defence, media@environmentaldefence.ca, 705-435-8611

Jesse Cardinal, Keepers of the Water, ed@keepersofthewater.ca