122 birds died after landing on 3 northern Alberta tailings ponds

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Syncrude have been identified as the two companies that had waterfowl land on tailings ponds in northern Alberta.

Heavy fog in the area may have been a factor, Alberta Energy Regulator investigating

The Alberta Energy Regulator says 122 waterfowl died on tailings ponds operated by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Syncrude and Suncor in the northern Alberta Oilsands. 

CNRL has found 60 birds so far at the Horizon site. Syncrude had to euthanize 30 birds that landed on a pond at the Mildred Lake site.

The Alberta Energy Regulator has sent investigators to ensure wildlife deterrents were working properly at the time. The regulator believes weather may have been a factor in the birds' deaths. 

CNRL spokeswoman Julie Woo said in an email the birds landed early Tuesday morning when there was “extreme fog” in the area. 

She said deterrents including radar units, long range acoustic devices, propane cannons and scarecrows were working at the time.

“We are saddened that approximately 60 waterfowl were not deterred and we are currently in the process of confirming the final affected number,” she said. 

Syncrude spokesman Will Gibson says the company noticed increased bird activity in the region and put its deterrent system on high alert.

“It's disappointing to us when wildlife are harmed by our operations. We're going to review our system to see if there's additional ways beyond additional improvements we've already implemented to ensure this kind of incident doesn't happen again.”

Carolyn Campbell, conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association, says deterrents like scarecrows, cannons and flagging aren’t very effective.

When Syncrude was fined $3 million after 1,600 birds landed on a tailings pond in 2008, Campbell says the government promised to increase regulations and shrink the size of tailings ponds at that time, but little has been done. 

She believes the Alberta government needs to standardize the rules to keep wildlife away from tailings ponds.