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123 birds die at Fort Hills oilsands project in northern Alberta

Mine developer Suncor monitoring situation, collecting dead waterfowl and songbirds

Horned Lark

Suncor confirms the majority of the birds that landed on its tailings pond were horned larks. (Regexman/ Flickr)

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The Alberta Energy Regulator is responding to reports that 123 birds have died at the Fort Hills oilsands project north of Fort McMurray.

Suncor Energy, the mine's operator, has reported 123 "deceased or euthanized waterfowl and songbirds," the energy regulator reported Tuesday. Suncor is continuing to monitor and collect the injured and dead birds, the AER said in a news release.

The Fort Hills mine, 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, is scheduled to begin producing oil by the end of 2017. It is jointly owned by Suncor, Total E&P Canada and Teck Resources.

Suncor, which holds a 50.8-per-cent interest in the project, is the developer and operator.

Suncor spokesperson Nicole Fisher said the company regrets the incident and is also reviewing the deaths.

Fisher couldn't say how the birds were euthanized, but confirmed the birds were horned larks.

"I can tell you our bird deterrent systems, including canons, radar and effigies — those are the scarecrows — were in place and active at the site at the time," Fisher said. "Given the unusual nature of this situation, we have taken additional steps to prevent any further bird landings."

'Sprawling toxic problem'

Greenpeace said the bird deaths are the latest "urgent reminder" of the ongoing threat tailings ponds pose to wildlife.

"How many more incidents like this do we have to face before the government finally does something to solve the problem?" Mike Hudema, a Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner, said in a statement.

"The past five Alberta premiers, dating back to Ralph Klein, have each said that they will deal with Alberta's sprawling toxic problem, and yet tailings ponds continue to grow.

"This is going to keep happening until the federal government actually enforces the laws designed to protect wildlife from toxic substances and the Alberta government puts an enforceable plan in place that sees tailings ponds cleaned up from Alberta's landscape for good."

Syncrude's Mildred Lake plant

The death of 31 blue herons at the Syncrude Canada Mildred Lake oilsands mine site north of Fort McMurray resulted in charges for the operator this year. (Canadian Press/The Interior/Wiki Creative Commons)

The 123 deaths reported Tuesday are the latest in a series of bird fatalities at Alberta oilsands operations.

In 2008, Syncrude was fined $3 million when more than 1,600 ducks died after landing on a tailings pond.

In October 2010, more than 550 birds died or had to be killed when an early winter storm forced them to land on waste ponds belonging to Syncrude and Suncor.

In November 2015, 122 birds were killed after landing on three tailings ponds in the area, including one at the Mildred Lake mine north of Fort McMurray.

In August of this year, the AER charged Syncrude Canada in the deaths of 31 great blue herons discovered at a pond at the Mildred Lake mine north of Fort McMurray in August 2015.

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