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Indigenous and Environmental Groups Denounce Government Inaction on First Anniversary of Imperial Oil Tailings Disaster

Press Release

February 06, 2024

ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE, KEEPERS OF THE WATER

Ottawa | Traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg People – A year ago, news broke that Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine had been leaking toxic industrial wastewater for over nine months while keeping local Indigenous communities in the dark. The public only learned about the leak after a subsequent spill at the same facility, which released 5.3 million litres of industrial waste into the environment. Despite this, a year later, Imperial Oil has not faced charges or penalties under the Fisheries Act or provincial environmental protection laws.

“It is infuriating that no one has faced legal consequences for the Imperial Oil disaster and cover up. Governments watch as oil companies break the rules, raking in record profits while leaving an environmental disaster. The tar sands’ toxic tailings grow larger every day, threatening rivers, wildlife, and entire communities. Imperial Oil must be charged, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s time for a moratorium on tailings growth and a credible plan to clean up this toxic mess. Anything less leaves communities at the mercy of corporate negligence,” said Aliénor Rougeot, Climate and Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defence

“The Imperial Oil disaster confirmed what our communities have said for generations: big polluters are free to do whatever they want in our traditional territory – our backyards. The Alberta Energy Regulator has shown us over and over that it is willfully neglecting to keep us safe from toxic waste and pollution. It must be dismantled and rebuilt with a co-governing body, where downstream impacted Indigenous communities have policy-making authority and leadership roles,” said Jesse Cardinal, Executive Director at Keepers of the Water.

Environmental Defence expert Aliénor Rougeot, Climate and Energy Program Manager, will testify before the Parliamentary Environment Committee (ENVI) today about the impacts of tar sands mining, including its toxic tailings waste on groundwater.

Background information:

  • The Alberta Energy Regulator issued an order on February 6th, 2023, to Imperial Oil, Canada’s 3rd largest oil sands producer, in response to two incidents in which wastewater from toxic tailings leaked into the environment. One of the incidents spilled 5.3 million litres of industrial waste.
  • Indigenous and environmental groups sent a letter to the federal and Alberta governments, urging action on the Imperial Oil leak, such as bringing federal charges under the Fisheries Act.
  • In 2020, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an environmental agency created under NAFTA, confirmed the tar sands tailings ponds were leaking toxic chemicals into groundwater and that these leaks violate Canada’s Fisheries Act.
  • The tar sands’ tailings “ponds” now contain over 1.4 trillion litres of toxic waste and cover an area more than two times the size of the city of Vancouver.
  • See this tailings fact sheet for more information.

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

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

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