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.