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Imperial Oil Kearl Site Seepage and why it Requires Immediate Action

Federal inspectors at Environment Canada have ordered Imperial Oil to immediately stop the toxic seepage from their Kearl mine tailing ponds. This preventable environmental disaster highlights the urgent need for transparency and accountability in the oil and gas industry. The leak, which has gone unreported for ten months, poses a significant threat to local communities and wildlife, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing the health of our ecosystems.

On March 13, 2023, federal inspectors at Environment Canada ruled that Imperial Oil Ltd. must immediately take action to stop toxic seepage from tailing ponds at their Kearl mine.  Waste from mining efforts is caught in catchment ponds, and its containment is essential for the health of all members of the surrounding ecosystem.

The Kearl Oil Sands Project is located in the Athabasca Oil Sands, in northeast Alberta, about 70 kilometers north of Fort McMurray.  The Kearl mine is a large open-pit mine that, on average, produces 300,000 barrels of oil per day,

Though the seepage from the Kearl mine was first noticed ten months ago, local First Nations, as well as provincial and federal governments, were not informed by either Imperial or he Alberta Energy Regulator.  This lack of transparency is frightening; the toxic leak was only made public on February 7, when the Regulator called for an environmental protection order.

Inspectors sent by Environment Canada will continue to monitor the leak and Imperial’s clean up efforts, but the reality is that the systems in place to protect the land and citizens of Canada are not working.  The federal government was supposed to have been informed of the leak within twenty-four hours of its discovery, as was the government of the Northwest Territories, since the watershed that the Kearl mine is a part of is shared with the other province.

This environmental disaster bears threat to not only the First Nations who harvest food from land close to the site, but the fish and wildlife in nearby waterbodies.  Though Imperial agreed to comply with cleanup efforts, the fact that this preventable leak occurred at all should worry all Canadians and environmental advocates.  The federal government will be monitoring the cleanup, which, so far, includes the plan to install a fish barrier to prevent migration into potentially toxic water and surface water pumps to prevent the contaminated water from reaching the areas in which the fish currently reside.

The contaminated wastewater contains iron, hydrocarbons, arsenic, and sulphates at levels that exceed both provincial and federal guidelines. Though Alberta Premier Danielle Smith claims that the drinking water in the area of the seep is safe for human consumption, First Nations leaders in the area, such as Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, remain concerned for the wellbeing of the fish, the surrounding ecosystem, and the people who call Athabasca their home.

Shira Sanghvi
Verified writer

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