Hundred of migrating birds are dying after landing on a tailings pond in northern Alberta owned by Syncrude, environment officials confirmed Tuesday.
The ducks landed Monday on a pond filled with toxic waste from the oilsands operation at the Aurora North Site mine, north of Fort McMurray. Environment officials said the birds are "clearly heavily oiled" and are not able to fly.
At the Alberta Legislature, Premier Ed Stelmach said he was concerned about the report, saying Syncrude did not report the incident. The government learned about it from a tipster, he said.
Stelmach is promising a full investigation of what went wrong, with fines of up to $1 million if Syncrude is found negligent.
Provincial environment regulations require oilsands plants to have plans in place to keep migratory birds from landing on the toxic ponds.
Recovery operations are underway, but heavy ice surrounding the pond is making it difficult to launch boats so rescuers can try to save the stricken birds.
"We're very saddened and sorry that this occurred," said Tom Katinas, president and CEO of Syncrude.
"We're investigating the incident and co-operating with Alberta government officials to determine how we can prevent a similar incident in the future."
Katinas said the company uses noisemakers from spring until fall to deter birds.
However, it was not able to set up the devices due to the extreme winter weather conditions in the region last week, he said.
Syncrude said it is working closely with Alberta Fish and Wildlife and Alberta Environment to co-ordinate recovery efforts.
The Alberta government has been under increasing pressure from environmental groups to place a moratorium on oilsands development.
Greenpeace activists disrupted a fundraising dinner by the premier in Edmonton last week, dropping from a convention centre catwalk and unveiling a banner that read, "Stelmach, the best premier oil money can buy."