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Toxic Leak of Tailings Ponds

The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development has undertaken a study of the recent Toxic Leak of Tailings Ponds at Imperial Oil’s Kearl site.

My Conservative colleagues pushed to ensure that this study is fulsome and the Committee would hear from all the players involved, including Environment and Climate Change Canada. The study was unanimously supported by all parties.

A Clear Breach

At our first meeting on April 17, I asked Mr. Daniel Stuckless, Director of the Fort McKay M├ętis Nation, and Mr. Russell Noseworthy of Fort McMurray Metis Local No. 1935, how they would fix the ability of a regulator to regulate, since clearly in this instance, the system did not work effectively. Listen to their answers.

Imperial Oil

The second meeting was held on April 20, and the Committee heard from Imperial Oil representatives including Brad Corson, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer.

I questioned Helga Shield (Manager, Environment, Regulatory and Socioeconomic) about what was clearly perceived as inadequate communications to the communities and individuals reliant on the water that was potentially tainted. I also wanted to know if there was – or is – a protocol, a reporting mechanism, for informing various governments and governmental bodies when something like this happens. Ms. Shield advised that her protocol is to call a 1-800 number called EDGE which is supposed to trigger information distribution.

In a second round of questioning, I asked why it took so long from the initial discovery of the seepage until the composition of the industrial water was identified. The response from Simon Younger, Senior Vice-President, Upstream, didn’t fully explain why a higher time priority could not be placed on this critical work.

I also followed up on the previous answer from Ms. Shield about her reporting protocol to a 1-800 number called EDGE. Does she know what EDGE does with the information? It clearly didn’t work in this instance. Does she have any opinion about changes that would make it more effective? People who rely on clean water did not know if their water was safe. We are looking for clear lines of communications, of accountability, going forward.

Alberta Energy Regulator – President and CEO Laurie Pushor

In another round of hearings on April 24 into the potentially toxic seepage of tailings ponds at Imperial Oil’s Kearl site, I questioned Laurie Pushor, the President and CEO of the Alberta Energy Regulator.

I began with questions of trust. An arms-length regulator like AER relies on trust from stakeholders and communities, but that trust has been absent for a long time. I asked Mr. Pushor if he felt he was restoring trust in AER.

In particular, it is evident that there were major communications problems. The people who rely on clean drinking water were not assured that their water continued to be safe (if it was) during the three-month testing period. Mr. Pushor acknowledged that they did not meet community expectations but also referenced the responsibilities of others.

A Clear Line of Local Responsibility is Required

In a second round of questioning on April 24, I continued to question Laurie Pushor, the President and CEO of the Alberta Energy Regulator.

In particular, I wanted to follow up on the long delays in communicating with interested parties, including governments. In essence, he replied that since the seepage was contained and did not appear to be toxic, there was no need to share information.

I also asked the representative from the Department of the Environment, Megan Nichols, if she felt putting in place more federal and provincial regulatory consultations in the form of a proposed “working group” would solve the problem, or just add more obfuscation to the process; and whether the department had the resources to handle such additional responsibilities effectively.

My view is that the Department of the Environment does not have the required expertise to perform this role, and it would be better for people on the ground – not from afar – to be responsible for a clear line of accountability.