Front Burner

Outrage over silence as toxic oil tailings leaked

Toxic oil sands tailings have been leaking for nine months into areas where Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation community members hunt, trap and fish. Why wasn’t the community told sooner, and will there be accountability?
orange brown water on a snowy landscape.
Orange brown industrial wastewater has been seeping out of an oilsands tailing pond since May. Now, leaders from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta are calling for action. (Nick Vardy for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation)

Since the Kearl mine in northern Alberta began production on Treaty 8 territory in 2013, the company has touted technological innovations that they say "enhance environmental performance."

Yet for months, wastewater from the mine's tailings ponds, containing arsenic, hydrocarbons and sulphides has been seeping into the land.

The company that runs the mine, Imperial Oil, first reported the leak in May 2022 to the provincial regulator. But Chief Allan Adam of the nearby Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation says his community only learned of the seepage last month. 

That's created anxiety, says Chief Adam, because people have been hunting, fishing and trapping without knowing there was a risk of contamination.

Drew Anderson, the Narwhal's Prairies reporter, joins us today to  walk us through how the leak happened, Alberta's tailings pond debate and who's accountable.

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