Maximum fine does not save ducks from oily ponds

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)
EDMONTON-Attorneys for the oil sands extraction giant
Syncrude Canada on October 22, 2010 agreed in the St. Alberta,
Alberta provincial court that Syncrude will pay the maximum
allowable penalities under both Alberta law and Canadian federal law
for causing the deaths of 1,600 ducks in an oil-saturated tailings
pond near Aurora, Alberta on April 28, 2008.
On October 25, 2010 Syncrude Canada allegedly repeated the
offense at another location.

“According to the last available count, about 230 ducks who
landed on the Mildred Lake tailings pond were euthanized after they
were covered in oil,” reported Hanneke Brooymans of PostMedia News.
“What we understand so far is that one of the contributing
factors may have been freezing rain. In those types of weather
conditions the best bird deterrents wouldn’t be effective,” said
Alberta Environment spokesperson Cara Tobin.
Suncor spokesperson Dany Laferriere reported 40 duck deaths in
Suncor tailings ponds. Shell Canada reported two, Brooyman wrote.
University of Alberta associate professor of biology Colleen
Cassady St. Clair told Brooymans that the Syncrude facilities are in
particularly bad locations. Both the Aurora pond and the Mildred
Lake pond are close to the Athabasca River bird migration corridor.
In addition, wrote Brooymans, “Mildred Lake is more toxic
than other tailings ponds because it’s 32 years old and contains
water that has been recycled repeatedly, meaning the water becomes
increasingly toxic over time and more likely to contain bitumen.”
While birds can be rescued from some oily environments, St.
Clair said, “My impression from the literature is that birds who
land on bitumen-containing water bodies are as good as dead. As an
animal behaviorist I think the kindest thing to do for those birds is
to euthanize them quickly and as painlessly as possible.”
Syncrude Canada spokesperson Cheryl Robb “said the circumstance
of these duck deaths were different from those linked to the incident
that led to the $3 million fine. It did have the deterrent system
deployed at the Mildred Lake tailings pond,” Brooyman wrote. “A
late spring storm had prevented the company from setting up equipment
at the Aurora tailings pond in 2008. And this time the company was
also able to get out on the water right away to pick up the birds.”
“We thought we had closed the book on this and significantly
improved the performance, the commitment to the bird deterrent
systems,” Alberta environment minister Rob Renner told Frank Landry
of the Edmonton Sun.
“It is frustrating that now we find ourselves back in that
situation,” Renner said.
Alberta judge Ken Tjosvold on October 22 fined Syncrude
$300,000 under federal law and $500,000 under provincial law for the
April 2008 bird deaths.
Reported CBC News, “A research project into bird migration and
the effectiveness of bird deterrents at the University of Alberta
will also receive $1.3 million. Other beneficiaries include the
Alberta Conservation Association, which will receive $900,000, and
the environmental program at Keyano College in Fort McMurray, which
will receive half of the $500,000 provincial fine.” The fines
followed a two-month trial.
Said Robb of Syncrude, “We’ve learned a lot and we made
significant changes to our system and we’re ready to move forward.”
That was on Friday afternoon. On Monday morning ducks began
landing in the Mildred Lake pond.

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