Lack of tailings dam transparency highlights increased risk to downstream communities

July 21, 2010

YELLOWKNIFE, N.W.T. – Two weeks after a parliamentary committee quietly cancelled its report on water and oilsands pollution, a new report reveals that oilsands development continues to create risks for communities downstream.

The report, Northern Lifeblood: Empowering Northern Leaders to Protect the Mackenzie River Basin from Oilsands Risks, focuses on actions that leaders in the Northwest Territories can take to protect their waters in the Mackenzie River Basin, looking closely at the risks posed by upstream oilsands development.

The report highlights new information on the risks associated with toxic tailings waste, noting a lack of transparency with respect to dam performance and emergency planning. Researchers discovered information on tailings dams, such as emergency preparedness plans, emergency response plans and performance reports are not publicly available.

“Improving access to tailings dam management documents, which are currently considered proprietary, would help alleviate local and international stakeholders’ concerns regarding Canada’s oilsands,” said Jennifer Grant, director of Pembina’s Arctic program and lead author on the report.

The report also presents conflicting reports regarding pollution from oilsands and identifies several areas where the federal government could increase its responsibility in the basin.

Of all the industrial activities in the Mackenzie River Basin, oilsands extraction deserves special attention because it is growing rapidly in the basin’s critical headwaters, it uses significant amounts of water and it leaves behind toxic sludge.

The report identifies nine ways in which northern leaders can communicate their concerns and take action regarding oilsands development.

“Northern leaders can demand that existing laws to protect water are enforced, and they can participate in the regulatory approvals process in Alberta,” Grant said.

Many of the actions involve the federal government, which is the principal manager of water resources in the Northwest Territories.


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