Ministers provide a status update on federal action to address ongoing situation at Kearl Oil Sands Mine
March 20, 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario
Today, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services, provided the following update:
“On February 4, 2023, Imperial Oil reported to the Alberta Energy Regulator a wastewater seepage incident, for the second time in nine months, at its Kearl Oil Sands Mine, in the Athabasca region of Alberta. The company had reported an initial leak on May 19, 2022.
“Both Environment and Climate Change Canada and the surrounding First Nations communities were only made aware of these incidents on February 7, 2023, following the Alberta Energy Regulator’s publication of an emergency order for Imperial Oil to contain the ongoing seepage. This slow notification to the federal government and Indigenous communities is of serious concern.
“Ministers Guilbeault and Hajdu would like to provide an overview of a number of federal actions underway to address the situation and support local communities:
- Environment and Climate Change Canada’s enforcement officers are continuing to monitor the cleanup. Based on our current information, the seepage is believed to be deleterious, or harmful, to fish. As a result, on March 10, 2023, enforcement officers issued a Fisheries Act Direction to Imperial Oil, requiring them to take immediate action to prevent any seepage from entering fish-bearing waters. Environment and Climate Change Canada is working in coordination with the Alberta Energy Regulator to ensure Imperial Oil’s remedial action plan adheres to both orders of the Government’s environmental regulations.
- On March 14, 2023, Minister Guilbeault spoke with the Honourable Sonya Savage, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas for Alberta, to express concerns around the efficacy of the Alberta (EDGE) notification system and reiterate his commitment to take a collaborative approach to the situation. Minister Guilbeault introduced the idea of a joint federal-provincial-Indigenous working group, with participation from the oil companies, to address the immediate concerns around the Kearl Oil Sands Mine situation to restore trust and give transparency to all parties involved.
- As part of that working group, Minister Guilbeault is proposing a communication protocol to improve future environmental emergencies’ notifications to the federal government and to First Nations communities.
- Ministers Guilbeault and Hajdu are both in close contact with the surrounding First Nations communities, namely the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation, who have expressed their continuing concern for the health and safety of community members.
- On notification of the seepage, the intake to the Fort Chipewyan treatment plant was closed by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Currently, communities are relying on water stored in the reservoir, but it will need to be replenished soon from the Lake Athabasca intake.
- Sampling is underway by multiple parties, and recent tests to date show that the water is safe, potable, and meets Canadian drinking-water standards.
- Indigenous Services Canada continues to work with surrounding First Nations communities and partners to ensure the provision of water supplies. The department has approved funding for a shipment of an interim supply of bottled water to the Mikisew Cree First Nation, which arrived late last week, and is in communication with all stakeholders to determine if the need for further provisions of water is identified.
- On March 23, 2023, there will be the first meeting of the drinking water quality working group that will include representatives from the Government of Canada, including Indigenous Services Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada. The Government of Canada is ready to engage on longer-term options to address water quality concerns of communities.
- As these environmental concerns add on to existing mental health concerns in communities, Indigenous Services Canada is supporting mental health teams in the region to work with the First Nations and coordinate support as needed.
- Imperial Oil and the Alberta Energy Regulator have been invited to testify at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.”
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Environment and Climate Change Canada
819-938-3338 or 1-844-836-7799 (toll-free)
Office of the Minister of Indigenous Services and Minister responsible for FedNor
Indigenous Services Canada
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