Syncrude Canada fined C$3 million for 1,600 duck deaths

Fri Oct 22, 2010 5:02pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Oil producer Syncrude Canada Ltd will pay a C$3 million ($2.9 million) penalty for negligence in the deaths of 1,600 ducks in a toxic waste pond, a case that fueled international concern about the environmental impact of developing Canada's oil sands.

Most of the money will be contributed to wildlife and habitat conservation programs in northern Alberta.

Alberta Provincial Court Judge Ken Tjosvold found Syncrude, one of Canada's largest oil sands producers, guilty in the deaths of the birds last June. He accepted the C$3 million sentencing proposal on Friday.

He had ruled that Syncrude failed to take necessary steps to keep waterfowl away from the tailings pond at its Aurora mine in northern Alberta in April 2008. Many of the ducks became coated with sludge and sank.

Syncrude had argued that a spring snowstorm prevented it deploying the sound cannons and scarecrows that are used to keep birds away from the ponds, which are filled with wastewater, clay, heavy metals and residual oil, byproducts of the oil sands extraction process.

"The incident has haunted us and it's something we'll never forget. We sincerely regret that it happened," Syncrude spokeswoman Cheryl Robb said. "But we've learned a lot from it and we've made significant changes to our system."

Syncrude fought the charges in a nine-week trial, saying convictions would have implications throughout the oil sands mining industry.

Environmental groups have been highly critical of oil sands development. They said the fines amounted to a slap on the wrist for Syncrude, a joint venture of several international oil companies that can generate revenues of more than C$20 million a day at current oil prices.   Continued...