Canadian authorities have placed energy company Suncor under investigation after they found numerous animals dead in a tailings pond at its Base Mine site. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) stated that a total of 43 birds, one bat, two muskrats and one vole were all found in the pond.

Suncor said that the animals had likely not died recently, an assessment which the AER supported, saying: “The state of the wildlife indicates that this may not be a recent event, but this is under review.”

Erin Rees, spokesperson for Suncor, added: “At the time of discovery, all bird deterrent systems at Base Plant were active. Our bird deterrent program includes canons, radar and effigies. We have initiated an investigation”.

Initially, Suncor found the 32 water-fowl during a routine check of the pond. The AER found a further 11 birds, as well as other wildlife, after Suncor alerted them to the issue.

A history of tailings pond landings

Bird deaths after landing in tailings ponds have been a recurring problem in Canadian oil sands mining. In 2020, 50 birds died after landing on an Imperial Oil site. The Alberta Provincial Court fined Syncrude $738,358 (C$1m) after more than 1,600 ducks died on a tailings pond in 2010. In that case Syncrude were not found to have adequate deterrents on the site.

It marks the second high-profile environmental mishap from Suncor this week. Three days prior, Suncor discharged six million litres of silty water into the Athabasca River. The silt is usually let to settle before the water is drained from the pond. In this case, however, the water discharged contained more than twice the allowed level of sediment.

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Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation , called for the AER to be disbanded, saying: “Suncor’s actions highlight the continued failure of the AER to prevent, properly communicate, or proactively regulate environmental catastrophes in the oilsands”.