Syncrude guilty in 1,600 duck deaths in toxic pond
By Jeffrey Jones
ST. ALBERT, Alberta (Reuters) - A judge found Syncrude Canada Ltd, Canada's largest oil sands producer, guilty on Friday in the deaths of 1,600 ducks that landed on a toxic Northern Alberta tailings pond in 2008, ruling the company should have had deterrents in place.
Syncrude faces maximum penalties of C$500,000 for provincial charges and C$300,000 under federal charges in the case, which crystallized international concern about the environmental impact of developing Canada's vast oil sands, the largest crude oil source outside the Middle East.
Alberta Provincial Court Judge Ken Tjosvold ruled the company failed to take necessary steps to keep the waterfowl away from the tailings pond at its Aurora mine in April 2008.
The company had said a spring snowstorm had prevented it from having sound cannons and scarecrows, used to keep birds from the ponds that are filled with wastewater and clay loaded with heavy metals and some residual oil.
It fought the charges in a nine-week trial, saying convictions would have implications on the oil sands mining industry.
"It could have set up its system to place deterrents sooner and more quickly regardless of the weather that arrived in April of 2008," Tjosvold said. "It was reasonable to take those precautions and Syncrude did not."
He will rule on August 20 whether the company can be convicted on both provincial and federal charges, given their similarity. Sentencing will follow.
Syncrude, a joint venture of several global oil companies, said it was disappointed with the verdict. It had argued that it could not be faulted for an act of God, which prevented it from keeping the ducks from its tailings pond. Continued...