Oilsands showdown coming over cleanup of tailings ponds: report by Bob Weber, March 30, 2017, Calgary Herald
EDMONTON – 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. [Why heed the rules with legally immune (even for Charter violations) regulation ignoring AER (led by ex Encana VP Gerard Protti) lying and breaking the law – showing companies how it’s done?]
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.” [So what? The “regulator” has been rejecting “clean up” plans for years, deregulating instead of forcing cleanup.]
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. [How many decades old are industry’s man-made waste lakes?]
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. [Does the AER or the Alberta government care? It’s 13 years now since Encana violated the Water Act and AEPEA, fracturing directly into Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers, and diverting fresh water without a permit. AER, Alberta Environment and the Alberta government are silent about Encana’s law violations, and there is still no order forcing Encana to clean up and repair the aquifers or to provide a permanent alternate safe water supply to the community.]
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 the government’s original target.
The new rules were also supposed to push producers to progressively clean up the ponds and to have sites ready to reclaim no more than 10 years after a mine closes. [Push? Why not just enforce? AER can shut the companies down, like they did Lexin. AER is doing nothing, and has done nothing but talk for years, to make sure the companies can keep polluting, punishment and clean up free. The plan is to hang Canadian citizens with the billions in clean up.]
Pembina suggests the filed applications don’t meet the spirit of those rules. Estimates for full reclamation range from 15 years to more than 70 years.
Suncor’s Millennium and Steepbank mines are to close in the early 2030s and take until 2095 to reclaim.
Most of the operators contacted by The Canadian Press declined to comment while their applications are before the regulator.
But Syncrude spokesman Will Gibson said his company’s plans meet the directive, despite the Mildred Lake mine’s expected closure in the mid-2030s with full cleanup by 2110. [Citizens believing lies promising “full” cleanup are in for a tremendously expensive reality check.]
Gibson said the regulator is only asking companies to have lands ready to reclaim within 10 years.
“Ready to reclaim doesn’t mean that the actual reclamation of the tailings deposit has to be finished or even get started,” he said. [Of course! The plan is NOT to clean up. That task is being intentionally saved for the children of today’s Albertans to swallow.]
“Based on these definitions, our plans meet all the requirements.” [Ya, requirements of do nothing but spew forth empty promises and talk, a lot but do nothing]
McNeill said the directive allows some flexibility, but the regulator should interpret and enforce the directive aggressively to ensure Albertans won’t have to keep their eye on the tailings ponds for generations to come. [Enforce? AER enforce? Saturday Night Live! Now that the Supreme Court of Canada has given AER total freedom to violate the Charter and any other law, don’t hold your breath. The NDP government, following worse than the PCs, enable the corrupt fraudulent AER, reduced royalties, enable increased emissions and pollution, while lying under the cover of a scam of climate change plan, cheered on by industry, the federal government and environmental NGOs]
In the Suncor decision, the regulator emphasized that companies must prove that “ready to reclaim” means what it says. The directive also stipulates that risks in technology used to clean up the ponds must be identified and credible alternatives offered.
Six out of the eight mines studied by Pembina propose to use end-pit lakes. That involves pouring treated tailings into an engineered basin and capping them with fresh water.
In its ruling on Suncor’s proposal, the regulator called that approach unproven. It said that without more information, or a realistic plan B, relying on end-pit lakes wasn’t acceptable.
Suncor has said it will work with the regulator to bring its proposal in line.
The directive is the regulator’s second attempt to deal with tailings. Another one from 2009 was scrapped soon after producers complained they couldn’t meet its targets.
McNeill said the Pembina analysis is an attempt to urge the regulator to enforce its orders while mines are still generating revenue.
“There’s definitely more urgency,” she said. “Some mines are going to be closing in 10 to 15 years from now. There’s no room to kick the can down the road even further.”
[Just wait another 30 years, to see the urgency grow, with no action from companies or AER, but more talk & promises]
McNeill acknowledged remediation is harder when oil prices are low. [The money to clean up ought to be put into trust accounts when profits and prices are at their highest. This would easily mitigate the boom bust excuse of not cleaning up that companies always use.]
“Cleaning up tailings is expensive,” she said. “The fact of the matter is, though, that they’ve created this waste and they’re responsible for it.” [Companies are getting the bitumen for next to nothing, with all the subsidies, and royalty cuts by government. No excuse for not cleaning up, and having the money in hand years ago.]
Alberta’s auditor general has estimated the environmental liability of the tailings ponds at $20.8 billion. [Likely an extreme under estimate]
“Albertans have been waiting five decades for this toxic legacy to be dealt with,” McNeill said. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
2016 02 06: NDP Royalty Fraud? 3rd most profitable industry in the world assembles crack team to ‘quietly’ seek more subsidies, loyal media cheers. Alberta’s Big Oil Bias: Billions in subsidies & lies for oil, gas, bitumen, frac’ing; $5 million for municipal solar, $0.5 million for farm solar, $0 for home solar, $0 for the many poisoned by oil & gas, $0 for families with frac health harms, 0$ for contaminated or lost water And companies are still not cleaning up their tar mess. ]