Canadian authorities continue to monitor the situation after 32 birds were found dead in tailings sands ponds operated by Suncor.

A total of 27 birds were found dead in the pond at the Mildred Lake project in Alberta, including seven Grebes, a small species of endangered waterfowl. Another five Grebes were found in a pond at Suncor’s Millenium Mine site.

A part of Suncor’s Syncrude joint venture, the Mildred Lake project has been in operation since 1978 and is the single largest greenhouse gas emitter in Canada. Suncor produced 675,100 barrels per day (bpd) during the first quarter of 2023.

A statement from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) said: “On May 13, an AER inspector visited the Mildred Lake site to gather and review the information and assess the existing bird deterrent systems. The AER is ensuring that all safety and environmental requirements are met during the response to the incident.”

As waterfowl often mistake toxic tailings ponds for bodies of water, site operators employ tactics such as sound cannons and effigies to deter birds. Suncor and Syncrude though have a history of bird landings in tailing sands ponds.

This is the second instance of dead waterfowl being found on Suncor-operated sites in 2023. In April, 43 birds were found dead at Suncor’s tailings pond at its Base Mine site. The AER announced that they would probe the deaths, but it has only furthered criticisms of the AER from groups including the local indigenous communities.

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In April, AER CEO Laurie Pushor apologised for the regulator’s failure to inform indigenous communities about toxic leakage from tailings dams for nine months. Initial reports of discoloured water at Imperial’s Kearl Oil Sands project were reported in May 2022, but the communities were not informed that it was the result of a tailings leak until February 2023.

Pushor stated: “It is clear that neither Imperial nor the AER met community expectations to ensure they are fully aware of what is and what was happening.”