Alberta’s oilsands could be heading for another showdown over tailings ponds after an independent assessment found that the cleanup plans of six major operators don’t meet new rules.
Suncor’s intentions have been rejected by the Alberta Energy Regulator and a clean-energy think tank says its analysis has concluded plans by other producers have similar shortcomings.
“All companies have submitted plans that are not consistent with Alberta’s tailings management framework,” said Jodi McNeill of the Pembina Institute. “We expect the regulator to reject other deficient plans.”
Last July, the regulator released a directive requiring producers to outline how they will deal with the extensive toxic ponds that cover more than 220 square kilometres and contain almost 1.2 trillion litres of contaminated water.
Toxic materials include bitumen, naphthenic acids, cyanide and heavy metals. They pose a threat to wildlife and release air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Research suggests they are leaching into groundwater.
A spokesman for the regulator said the Suncor decision shouldn’t be seen as a precedent.
“AER’s decision on Suncor’s tailings management plan is without prejudice to any applications that Suncor may submit, or to the other six tailings management plan applications that the AER is currently reviewing,” Ryan Bartlett said in an emailed statement.
But the plans filed by six major producers for eight projects reveal big problems, said McNeill.
The directive was intended to check the ponds’ growth. But Pembina found that, taken together, tailings volumes won’t start dropping until 2037 — 17 years after…
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