Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is minimizing the effect of two large releases of oilsands tailings water, two area First Nations leaders said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Environment Canada confirmed the Alberta government didn’t pass along news of the spill. The federal agency, which is investigating the spill, released a timeline saying the department first learned of the releases from First Nations.
Earlier this week, Smith said the release of at least 5.3 million litres of toxic tailings from Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine had no effect on local waterways or wildlife. She also blamed Imperial for slow communications on the releases, which resulted in “misinformation” being spread.
“I don’t really know why she would say that,” said Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, which is downstream of the releases. Its members also harvest on land adjacent to them.
“I truly believe it’s too early to be definite. [Smith’s] comments are very concerning.”
Alberta premier says Imperial Oil should have disclosed tailings pond spills
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said the releases — which contain toxic levels of contaminants, such as arsenic — are much more than a communications issue.
“This is an environmental catastrophe that the [Alberta Energy Regulator] and Imperial Oil tried to cover up and now the premier and [Environment Minister Sonya Savage] are trying to minimize,” he stated in a news release Wednesday.
Smith’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
‘The trust has been broken’
Last May, Imperial discovered brown sludge that later turned out to be seepage from a nearby tailings pond. The company told Alberta officials and the First Nations about the initial finding but didn’t release further information until February, by which time another 5.3 million litres of tailings escaped from a containment pond.
Environment Canada said it learned about the releases Feb. 7, the same day the Alberta Energy Regulator released an environmental protection order to the public.
“First Nations contacted [the department] about a recent spill/seepage,” the timeline says.
Alberta’s United Conservative Party government has not said when it first learned of the releases.
Tuccaro and Adam are angry their people harvested for nine months from nearby lands without being kept informed.
“The trust has been broken,” said Tuccaro.