While tailings pond leaked, Imperial Oil lobbied Alberta government on ‘cost-effective’ regulation

Environment and Climate Change minister calls situation ‘very worrisome”

Over the past six months, Imperial Oil has been lobbying the Alberta government, including the Premier’s Office and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), on “cost effective regulatory requirements” regarding continuous emission monitoring, according to publicly available documents in the lobbyist register.

According to the records, Imperial Oil met with the Premier’s Office, the Alberta Legislative Assembly, Alberta Municipal Affairs, and the Alberta Energy Regulator among other government departments on at least six occasions.

Meeting notes include “Imperial Oil Ltd. believes the long-term objective of a climate change policy should be to reduce the risk of serious impacts to humanity and ecosystems at minimum societal cost while recognizing the importance of safe, reliable, affordable and abundant energy for global economic development.”

Regarding a meeting on land reclamation, notes include: “communicating with the Government of Alberta about land reclamation and remediation policies, in general. The goal is to advocate for efficient and cost-effective regulatory requirements.”

What Imperial Oil wasn’t doing during this time was notifying First Nations that wastewater from the Imperial Oil Resourced Limited mine, which is tainted with dangerous levels of arsenic, dissolved metals, hydrocarbons and sulfites have been leaking from the Kearl project onto Crown lands since May of 2022.

APTN News reached out to Imperial Oil for an interview. Instead, they provided a statement.

“Initial notifications of the surface water issue were made in accordance with regulatory requirements under applicable legislation for incident reporting requirements,” said the spokesperson.

According to Alberta legislation, in addition to notifying the AER, Imperial Oil should have sent a report to  “any other person who the person reporting knows or ought to know may be directly affected by the release.” This would have included surrounding First Nations, who say they were not notified until much later.

Environment and Climate Change Canada said Alberta didn’t reveal the leak for months.

Watch: Minister Stephen Guilbeaut speaks to media about Imperial Oil leaks

In a scrum, Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister Stephen Guilbeault said that Alberta should have notified the federal government within 24 hours of a leak from toxic tailings ponds.

“It is very worrisome that for over half a year, the Alberta regulator did not communicate with Environment and Climate Change Canada, nor did they communicate with the Indigenous nations,” said Guilbeault.

ECCC spokesperson Gabrielle Lamontagne provided a timeline of notification events to APTN that shows that ECCC first became aware of the leaks after concerned First Nations contacted the department and AER posted an environmental protection order against Imperial Oil.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) announced on March 8 that it wants access to the Imperial Kearl lease land in order to conduct testing to establish the extent of leaks from the tailings pond.

The ACFN also called out comments from Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who said Monday that none of the tailings pond spill entered into the water system.

New Democrat Opposition leader Rachel Notley questioned Smith on the issue in the provincial legislature Monday.

“Proper monitoring, public safety and public notice are among the most basic government responsibilities in these situations,” Notley said. “The (United Conservative Party government) failed at all of them.”

Smith said the environmental concerns were overblown, fuelled by misinformation in the media.

The ACFN on the other hand, has released photos showing that tailings pond water has soaked into the ground and is pooling in areas that are accessible to wildlife.

“This is much more than a simple communications issue. This is an environmental catastrophe that the AER and Imperial Oil tried to cover up and now the [p]remier and [m]initer are trying to minimize,” said Chief Allan Adam in an emailed statement.

Imperial Oil previously issued a statement apologizing for not meeting the communication expectations of the ACFN.

“We expect the Premier to be fully transparent with ACFN, other Indigenous communities and the public, and to demand accountability at all levels for the many failures that resulted in this incident. We expect real action from the Premier and every other responsible official to ensure that it never happens again,” said Adam.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation have both criticized the United Conservative government’s silence on the spill, saying their people harvested on lands near the spill for months without knowing of the potential hazards.

The federal government has opened an investigation into potential violations of the Fisheries Act but Imperial Oil has denied the ACFN request for their environmental monitors to access the site.

With files from the Canadian Press

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