Oilsands Tailing Ponds Ticking Time Bomb for Canadians
Alberta has failed to protect taxpayers from billions in cleanup costs.
Oilsands cleanup costs are forecast at $27 billion to $48 billion; companies have posted only $1.4 billion to cover future costs. Photo from Google Maps.
Last fall, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) approved a previously rejected plan from Suncor that allows the company 70 years
after the mine closes in 2033 to sign off on its reclamation requirements.
Collectively, tailings ponds now cover 25,000 hectares
in northern Alberta and contain a poisonous brew of organic acids, benzene, lead and fine clay particles that have not significantly settled out in 50 years. The result is lakes of toxic yogurt impounded by the largest
earthen structures in the world.
The current plan, to be completed almost a century from now, involves pumping this poisonous slurry into abandoned mining pits and covering it with a water cap — an unproven technique
based on the dubious assumption that the contaminated and uncontaminated layers will somehow not mix decades into the future.
Alberta has the constitutional right to manage resources as the province sees fit, but the current situation could be described as regulatory humiliation. Bitumen royalties make up less than four per cent
of the provincial budget and capture a similarly puny proportion of the market value of bitumen produced by the companies.