Birds, Tar Sands and Tailings Ponds

This week, almost a year after it was reported some 500 ducks died upon landing on one of Syncrude’s tailings ponds during spring migration, the company has finally released information about its new mitigation plans and the actual death toll from last spring.

The final bird death count was 1,606 individuals, three times more dead than originally reported, and there were likely more. While the company seems to sincerely regret the the death of these birds, their new mitigation plans are inadequate to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. If Syncrude is really sincere about ensuring this never happens again then the tailings ponds should be covered. The present economic situation aside, Syncrude’s profits are more than adequate to justify this type of expense.

Furthermore, the release of the final bird numbers so long after the original incident leads one to question the transparency of the provincial government investigation. Why has it taken so long to get these facts? In fact, media reports are saying that two provincial ministries knew last summer that the number of dead ducks from Syncrude’s tailings pond was three times higher than the original estimate, but no effort was made to tell the public.

Another thing the public needs to know: How many individual birds die in tailings ponds on a regular basis? Syncrude, and the provincial government, have missed an opportunity to really demonstrate leadership here. Too bad….especially for the birds.