1,600 birds found dead at Canadian oil sands tailings pond

Posted: April 6, 2009 in how-to


Written by Gavin Hudson
Posted in About Animals, In The Americas

The ducks died last spring after landing in one of the heavily polluted tailings ponds of made by Syncrude Canada Ltd. Tailings ponds collect the waste from the company’s oil sands operations. Once the birds hit the water, there was little chance of saving them.

“A completely oiled bird would sink nearly immediately,” acknowledged Syncrude Environmental Services Manager Steven Gaudet soon after the incident.

Oil sands companies are supposed to deter birds from landing in their tailings ponds by using noisemaking cannons to scare birds away. However, the company said that the cannons on this particular tailings pond were not yet operational due to a late spring snowstorm.

The Syncrude company officials have apologized for the bird’s deaths, but given no explanation for only now admitting to such a high death toll. This news comes as the company is seeking to expand the volume of another Alberta tailings pond. Already, the Canadian province is the site of dozens of toxic tailings ponds.

In a related article, the environmental NGO Boreal Songbird Initiative has estimated that some 166 million birds could be killed over the next 30 to 50 years as a result of oil sands extraction in Canada.

Image credit: species_snob via Flickr, under a Creative Commons license.

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  1. cyberclark says:

    What about the millions of birds killed by wind turbines? No mention? What about the multi millions of ducks wounded by lead shot that went into a hole to die? No mention.

    We all know the tailing ponds don’t make great swimming holes but, this on going “save the birds” crap is just too much!

  2. Sparks-Clark says:

    The ignorance of the previous poster can not go unacknowledged. It always amazes me how little people know about ecosystem integrity. This “‘save the birds’ crap” is one aspect of a multifaceted argument of contamination that expands beyond the borders of the tailing ponds. People identify with birds more then chemists, or more generally scientists. That is why people latch onto these stories; but, these stories are important when we are sitting around in 20 years assigning blame for the devastation we have caused. It is stories like these that prove that no one is innocent in what we all are doing to Alberta. For every Canadian has bore witness to evidence like this in one way or another.

  3. student says:

    It is the cumulative effect of these small insignificant “bird crap” concerns which have developed into books such as “Silent Spring” (even heard of it, cyberclark, I’m guessing not – you don’t sound like the reading type).

  4. cyberclark says:

    Well Sparks had you taken a moment to look through my blog you would have found a very broad reference material that comes from detailed reading.

    I stringently oppose those who sensationalize a few dead birds to the extent they totally ignore and object to the many other demises that birds face daily.

    I don’t find it necessary to put down people to make my points. There has been an occasional exception to that.

    Your multifaceted argument is used as a broom to sweep away any meaningful detail while I have been on the defense of our water since long before it was a popular stand to take.

    Considering Alberta has no other industry besides oil I am not quick to trash industry; any industry. I do however take a critical eye to what is workable and what is not.

    I will say again; the birds are overdone; big time!

  5. Sparks-Clar says:

    Although this figure is likely exaggerated by standard statistics, 166 million birds over 30 years is not a few dead birds. Because it took the death of 1600 birds to get this number published, does not mean its stops at 1600.

    I am sorry but I don’t buy your argument: Alberta needs industry whatever the cost. The hyper expansion of the oil sands projects is drawing thousands of immigrants from all over the country. Alberta does not need the slum-to-be Fort McMurray, especially at the rate the current government is saving that money for future social spending. The government also does not need the future environmental contamination, which will lead to high health care costs and lawsuits from the first nations peoples. To further stress this point Finns make more money per person on the Oil sands then do Albertans. That is not an intelligent industry, nor is it needed on any angle other then greed.

    I must also state my disagreement with your claim that all Alberta has is oil. Alberta has other industries (forestry, mining, ranching, to name a few). It is true none of them make quite as much money for investors as the oil sands or methane coal, but that is because of poor government policy and regulation of the oil sands not because the other industries are not economically viable.

    Maybe the birds are over done, but not nearly as over done as the idea that the oil sands are good for Alberta or for Canada.

  6. cyberclark says:

    Well put Sparks! It appears your problems are more with Government than with industry? Alberta has the lowest royalty rate in the world.

    When tar sands were started royalty was set at 25% USD. Among the lies of the last election the Conservatives reduced that same royalty to 19% Canadian D. The numbers are further eroded with the addition of payment in kind for bitumen. Our current royalty will be 10% Canadian or less when balanced.

    For comparison Saskatchewan and BC both stand at 30% USD and the difference is the Government.

    I agree that the projects went forward with little or no planning. This again is Government or the lack of it.

    The Finns and most Euro countries take a larger percentage. The Finns you mention took the money into a national savings account and invested it.

    Alberta took it into the “Heritage Savings” and held the profits for that fund to 4% per year. Our heritage savings took the same hit as did all the other stocks in the world but, we did not have the profits in place to take up any of the shock!

    I would love it if people who have the wonderful capacity to care would get involved in a lot of issues that are not quite so apparent.

    Coal bed methane is one of these. It has the making of a disaster for the water tables.

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