At least 230 ducks die in latest Syncrude incident

Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:36am EDT
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By Scott Haggett and Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - About 230 ducks were euthanized after they landed on a toxic waste pond owned by Syncrude Canada Ltd, just three days after the oil sands producer was fined C$3 million for a similar incident two years ago that killed 1,600 waterfowl.

Syncrude said the birds landed on its Mildred Lake tailings pond in the northern Alberta oil sands on Monday and many had to be euthanized after coming into contact with tar-like bitumen floating on the surface of the pond.

They were among an unknown number of birds that set down on tailings ponds at as many as three major oil sands mines. The Alberta government reported ducks also landed at facilities run by Suncor Energy Inc and Royal Dutch Shell.

Syncrude, one of Canada's largest oil sands producers, said its bird deterrent system was operating, but the birds may have been forced down by a freezing-rain storm.

"They appeared to be exhausted and unable to fly," Syncrude said in a statement. "Birds that landed on roads and parking lots were approachable, strengthening the opinion that fatigue forced them to land."

It is not known yet if the death toll will keep climbing, Syncrude spokeswoman Cheryl Robb said.

The incident is an embarrassment for the oil sands industry and Alberta government, which seek to expand markets for the heavy crude in the United States amid an international campaign by environmental groups highly critical of the impact of development on air, water, wildlife and local communities.

Just last week, Syncrude was fined C$3 million ($2.9 million) for a 2008 incident where more than 1,600 waterfowl died after landing on a tailings pond at Syncrude's Aurora site.   Continued...