Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine has been leaking toxic industrial wastewater (known as tailings) onto the territories of nearby Indigenous communities, including Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation for over nine months. The communities were not informed of the leak until a separate incident spilled an additional 5.3 million litres of wastewater into the environment.
This disaster underscores the ongoing failure of tar sands producers to responsibly manage their waste and the danger that poses to ecosystems and human health.
Environmental Defence, Keepers of the Water, Indigenous Climate Action and 12+ organizations from across the country sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and the Alberta government calling for action and accountability for the disaster.
What are toxic tailings “ponds”?
Tar sands tailings “ponds,” store over 1.4 trillion litres of toxic wastewater from oil production. Their rapid growth and ongoing seepage have resulted in the contamination of rivers, groundwater, air, and surrounding boreal forest, wildlife and downstream Indigenous nations.
Photo by Garth Lenz
Hold the oil industry accountable for cleaning up their mess:
This letter is addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Alberta government, and will also be sent to Ministers in charge of environmental and Indigenous issues at both levels of government, and to the CEO of the Alberta Energy Regulator. Among other important recommendations, the signatories endorse the following priorities:
- Shut down production at Imperial Oil’s Kearl facility until the leak has been fixed, and ensure Free, Prior and Informed Consent is obtained from all impacted Indigenous nations before production restarts.
- Guarantee affected Indigenous nations have access to all the compliance reporting and data they request about all tar sands operations.
- Place an immediate moratorium on any further expansion of tar sands mining.
- Lay charges against Imperial Oil and other tar sands operators whose tailings ponds are leaking under relevant federal and provincial laws, and increase the fines for violations of environmental regulations.
- Abandon plans to release treated tailings into the Alberta River watershed and require operators to create comprehensive tailings reclamation plans with the goal to prevent any release of toxins into the environment.
- Secure from tar sands operators adequate security deposits in trust accounts to implement tailings “ponds” clean-up plans and finance the environmental remediation of mine sites.
- Require Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of all impacted Indigenous nations for any current or future mitigative and reclamation actions.
- Fund a comprehensive, Indigenous-led health study into the high incidence of rare cancers in Fort Chipewyan.
- Hold a public inquiry or investigation into the current state of tar sands operations and tailings pond impacts.
- Work with the Indigenous nations to overhaul the AER and establish a regulatory body in which nations are involved in a decision-making capacity.
“The Alberta and federal governments have stood by for forty-five years as oil companies in the tar sands recklessly disposed of their toxic waste, allowing disasters like Imperial Oil’s recent leak to take place. It is time they step up and ensure there are consequences for oil companies that contaminate the environment and jeopardize the well-being of Indigenous communities. The federal and Alberta government must charge Imperial Oil under relevant environmental laws, including the Fisheries Act, and fill the reporting and regulatory gaps that allow oil companies to get away with environmental destruction.”
– Aliénor Rougeot, Climate and Energy Program Manager, Environmental Defence Canada
“The Alberta Energy Regulator and the governments of so-called Alberta and Canada have once again failed to protect our lands and our rights as Indigenous peoples. Again and again, we see industry and colonial governments place profit over people and once again it is Indigenous nations that pay the ultimate price. These people are criminals and should be tried for the violence they are allowing on our territories. These operations should be shut down and the Alberta Energy Regulator dismantled and replaced by an independent entity that is led by the Indigenous nations most impacted by tindustry in their territories. Our communities deserve more than false promises and false solutions. Our communities deserve justice”
– Eriel Deranger, a member of ACFN and Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action