Alberta regulator won’t say when it knew of Kearl tar sands spill

The head of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) refused to tell a parliamentary committee on Monday when the provincial government was notified of the Kearl tar sands tailings pond spill.

“Well we do have a review that’s being conducted by our board of directors and so I think it would be best to leave that…,” AER CEO Laurie Pushor told the environment and sustainability committee before being interrupted by Alberta NDP MP Heather McPherson.

“So you can’t tell us the date that you let the provincial government that this was happening?” she asked.

Pushor responded, “I think it’s best that we let that review be a full independent review and all of those questions will be addressed in that review and the board has made a commitment that those findings will be released publicly.”

This was just one of several testy exchanges between McPherson and Pushor during the almost three-hour committee meeting.

Toxic water began seeping from a tailings pond at the Kearl oil sands site in northern Alberta in May 2022 but local Indigenous communities say they were not notified of the spill until February of this year – more than nine months later.

In a committee meeting last week, Imperial Oil CEO Brad Corson testified the environmental committees of local First Nations and Métis communities were notified of the leak in May but apologized that the company failed to bring the issue to the attention of the Indigenous leadership.

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On Monday, Pushor also testified AER was made aware of the spill in May by Imperial.

McPherson and Pushor again locked horns over the issue of whether or not AER had notified Indigenous communities of deep-water monitoring.

Pushor insisted the communities had been notified.

“You (McPherson) indicated that I had not shared and I want to correct that we received a positive test for F2 hydrocarbons in a deep water monitoring well two weeks ago,” Pushor said. “It’s been shared on our website, I have communicated.”

“With all due respect, I have just received information from Indigenous communities that says they have not been informed of the deep water monitoring that AER is conducting,” McPherson replied.

Representatives from the Northwest Territories government and Assembly of First Nations were also present at the meeting.

This included AFN Regional Chief for N.W.T. Gerald Antoine.

“We are very concerned that the Dene were not informed about this disastrous incident and the obvious health and environmental risk associated with the leaks and also the spills,” he said.

“This indeed is an emergency.”

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