Shane Thompson Demands Transparency as GNWT Left in the Dark About Alberta Oil Sands Spills

Media Statement

Yellowknife — March 2, 2023

Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Shane Thompson today issued the following statement:

“I was shocked to learn that one of the largest oil sands spills in Alberta’s history was reported in early February and I am extremely frustrated that we were not informed.

“According to media reports, approximately 5.3 million litres of industrial wastewater overflowed the banks of a storage pond at the Kearl Oil Sands operation north of Fort McMurray. This spill flowed into forest and wetland adjacent to the tributaries of the Muskeg and Firebag Rivers, which flow into the Athabasca River.

“In a separate and earlier incident at the same site, oil sands tailings effluent of an unknown amount with levels of some contaminants over federal and provincial guidelines has been seeping into groundwater and reaching surface water since May of 2022.

“I was distressed to learn of these incidents second hand. We were made aware of it from Indigenous governments in the area after a regional municipal government in Alberta  reached out to them.

“This violates the Bilateral Water Management Agreement with Alberta which commits our governments to communicating quickly and transparently about issues which could affect shared waters. This lack of transparency and information sharing from our Alberta partners is not an isolated incident, which increases our frustration in this matter. 

“Thankfully, enhanced water testing done at Fort Chipewyan by the regional municipality has shown no evidence of contamination of Lake Athabasca.

“The GNWT is taking several steps to respond to this issue.

“We have requested additional information from the Alberta Government to ensure that we have what is required to communicate to our partners in water management and monitoring about any possible risks. 

“We will be activating dispute resolution measures in our transboundary agreement with respect to information sharing in light of this breach.

“I have requested a meeting with the Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, Sonya Savage, to ensure that our bilateral agreement is upheld.

“Lastly, we are communicating with Indigenous governments and the Town of Fort Smith to devise a plan for enhanced monitoring of waters in the Slave River to track potential impacts of the incident upstream. 

“We will continue to work closely with Indigenous governments and communities every step of the way.

“This failure comes at a time when the Alberta Government is asking for trust and cooperation from the NWT as they work towards regulations to allow the release of treated oil sands tailings effluent into the environment.

“Important issues like these require trust, and there is no denying that Indigenous governments, community leaders, and our own government have been affected by this lack of transparency.

“This event underlines our position: the GNWT will not support the release of oil sands tailings effluent unless rigorous science demonstrates a safe way to do it and information sharing and emergency response provisions under our Agreement are sustained.

“Experts from our public service will continue to scrutinize all pertinent  information as it becomes available.”


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