Syncrude Trial Begins For Duck Deaths
Oil sands are a naturally occurring mixture of water and a very dense, viscous type of petroleum called bitumen. Making usable liquid fuels from these oil sands requires huge amounts of energy and resources. In recent years, higher oil prices and new technology has allowed this material to be profitably extracted.
Tailings are the leftover materials after the valuable portion has been extracted. In the case of the Syncrude oil sands, these tailings are pumped into ponds. The fluid in these ponds is highly toxic to wildlife and often has a consistency similar to yogurt.
WARNING! The follow video shows a duck in one of the tailings pond. You might find this disturbing. I certainly did, but it shows just how horrible these really ponds are!
These are not small ponds. To give you an idea, the pond these ducks died in is approximately the size of 640 football fields!
So this Monday, Syncrude pleaded not guilty to charges under the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.
In opening statements, Syncrude says that a freak late winter storm prevented them from putting the noise canons out which are supposed to keep the birds away. They went one to say that they looked at bird patterns over the last 30 years and thought that no birds should be in the area.
Provincial Crown prosecutor Susan McRory said Syncrude failed in its duty to protect the birds and that the snowstorm had no effect on the situation. Other facilities had their deterrents in place at the time of the ducks death. Also, the employees responsible for setting up the noise cannons were not even at work on the day the ducks landed
Federal Crown prosecutor Kent Brown said that Syncrude’s tailings ponds are an unlawful deposit under the Migratory Birds Convention Act since it presents a harmful substance to birds and is present in an area frequented by migratory birds.
Outside the court, Robert White, a lawyer for Syncrude, told reporters:
Yeah, a mistake was made but a crime, no. A mistake, learn from mistakes. Crimes, punish crimes, but don’t punish mistakes.
What?! So killing over 1600 migratory birds isn’t a crime?
Crime is the breach of rules or laws.
In my opinion, their “mistake” violated the law which therefore makes it a crime.
Robert White goes on:
“What the statute says is that we’re not supposed to bring any hazardous substance into contact with these birds. The problem arises when the birds come into contact with our hazardous substance.”
Hmmm… So is he trying to say it’s the birds’ fault? Let me read that again… Yes, I think he did!
This just really gets me fired up. How about just being honest and owning up to your mistakes? Really! It’s not like Syncrude can’t afford it.
If found guilty, Syncrude will have to pay a $800,000 fine. This breaks down into $500,000 for violating the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and $300,000 for violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
This really isn’t much at all considering Syncrude set new revenue generation records in 2009, bringing in $3.4 billion! These fines would be only 0.02% of their 2009 revenue!
Lindsay Telfer, with the Sierra Club:
The tarsands’ toxic tailings ponds are on trial today. I think this incident specifically showed the world just how toxic the tailings ponds are.
We know that those waters are leaking into the Athabasca and we know downstream communities have significant health problems.
I think… the interest that we’re seeing in this case goes far beyond the 1,600 ducks, though Syncrude needs to step up and take responsibility for those deaths.”
The following video is from an older news broadcast, but it gives you a really good overview of the story. Remember, initially they reported only 500 ducks. Much later, it was discovered that the death toll was over 1600.
What are your thoughts on this trial?
Update: While researching Syncrude and this story, I came across a video of a Syncrude employee doing the “Syncrude Shuffle” while on the job getting “23.50 plus OT” according to his description. Well, I can think of a few better things he could have be doing other than the “Syncrude Shuffle”. I really hope this is not what other Syncrude employees are like. Warning! There is a lot of foul language in the video.