Imperial Oil ordered to deal with seepage issues at Alberta oilsands mine

The Alberta Energy Regulator has issued an environmental protection order to Imperial Oil to address incidents of contamination at its Kearl project in the Athabasca oilsands region.

Environmental protection order cites multiple issues at Kearl oilsands project

A mine surrounded by forest can be seen in the distance.
The Alberta Energy Regulator has issued an environmental protection order to Imperial Oil to address two incidents of contamination at its Kearl oilsands project in the Athabasca region. (Alberta Innovates)

Alberta's energy regulator has given Imperial Oil until the end of the month to figure out how to deal with ongoing seepage at a tailings pond at its Kearl oilsands mine.

On Monday, the regulator issued an environmental protection order to Imperial to clean up ongoing seepages of industrial wastewater at the mine, located in the Athabasca region of northern Alberta, about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. 

The company also needs to submit plans for wildlife protection, environmental remediation and notifying the public.

The order covers two separate contamination incidents that took place over nine months. 

The most recent incident took place on Saturday, when Imperial reported an uncontrolled release of about 5,300 cubic metres of industrial wastewater from an overflow drainage pond. 

Another incident, which dates back to May 2022, resulted in industrial wastewater seeping from the external tailings area in four locations both on and outside the boundaries of the Kearl site. 

The regulator says there was no impact on the public or wildlife from either incident. 

Prior to this week's order, the regulator had already issued two notices of non-compliance, conducted site inspections and assessments, and required Imperial to monitor and sample wastewater and submit its results. 

The regulator has worked with Imperial on measures such as installing seepage wells and marking the boundaries of groundwater wells along the site's perimeter.

Imperial is still investigating the cause of that release, spokesperson Lisa Schmidt said in an statement to CBC.

"We regret this incident and are making every effort to learn from it and apply preventative measures," she said. 

"Some of the actions that we plan to implement are additional monitoring and control measures, including water catchment features, and additional monitoring and pumping wells. Based on our monitoring to date, there are no reported impacts to wildlife and no measurable impact to local waterways."

The regulator has told Imperial to submit a final report within 60 days of completing the actions contained in the environmental protection order.

The Calgary-based Imperial is about 70 per cent owned by  U.S. industry giant Exxon Mobil.

With files from The Canadian Press