News Articles | Calgary Herald | Edmonton Journal | Hanneke Brooymans | March 31, 2009
EDMONTON ‚Äî Syncrude president Tom Katinas revealed Tuesday that more than three times as many ducks as previously thought perished on a tailings pond near Fort McMurray last April.
The actual dead bird count was 1,606, Katinas told a news conference. Original estimates had put the number of dead birds at 500.
The ducks that landed on the tailings pond became covered in oily residue floating on the surface, and they sank to the bottom.
Five ducks were recovered and sent to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton. Three survived.
"Once again, I want to apologize for the terribly sad event that happened on our site," Katinas said after revealing the final tally. "It is a stain on the good reputation that Syncrude has earned over its many years of good operations. It's been particularly sad and embarrassing for me personally, for the employees of Syncrude and for all the stakeholders of this great company of ours.
"It also saddens us that the number is higher than originally estimated," he added. "In retrospect, we now realize the difficulty in determining the number of relatively small birds on a large body of water from a great distance. There was also a time element involved. The estimate was done in a point in time and could not account for the birds that had already gone below the waterline and were unable to surface again."
Katinas said the company recovered the bodies of the birds as they floated back to the surface of the pond during the decomposition process. He said he was in shock as the reported numbers rose from the original estimate.
Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema is also shocked ‚Äî by how long it took for the true number to come out.
"It continues to raise more questions about the transparency of these operations and the entire regulatory system around them," he said.
But Hudema said the duck incident is only the tip of the tarsands iceberg. "It's one incident I think we can point to that did become very public that shows the toxic nature of the tarsands industry. But definitely the damage and devastation associated with tarsands extraction goes far beyond even 1,600 ducks. The price tag keeps mounting."
Regardless of the numbers, Katinas said Syncrude remains committed to making sure they do everything they can to prevent something like this from happening again.
The company has decided to have bird deterrents stationed at any open water year-round. Last year, the company said the deployment of its noise cannons was delayed by a spring storm. This year, it began positioning noise cannons to scare away birds in mid-February.
There will also be 30 per cent more noise cannons, meaning there are now 190 stationed around the company's various ponds. And the company is using radar monitoring this spring to provide more information about bird activity in the area so Syncrude can figure out how to further improve the system.
Katinas could not say how much the improvements are costing the company.
Although he admitted the company was not prepared for the arrival of the migrating ducks last spring, Katinas would not comment on why the company did not plead guilty to provincial and federal charges in its court appearance last week. The case was put over to June 10 so the company has enough time to review the evidence submitted by the Crown. The oilsands giant was charged in February by both the provincial and federal governments for failing to take precautions to prevent the deaths of the ducks on the Aurora mine tailings pond north of Fort McMurray.
The maximum fine under the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act is $500,000, while federal Migratory Birds Convention Act regulations allow for a fine of $300,000 and six months in jail. Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford said when the charges were laid that the province would seek an alternative penalty that may require Syncrude to perform technical or environmental work, if the company is convicted.