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Alberta“s energy regulator apologises for poor communication around tailings leak


Demonstrators rally against Imperial Oil’s ongoing tailings pond leak, in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, Canada April 20, 2023. REUTERS/Blair Gable

The CEO of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) on Monday apologised for his organisation’s failure to fully inform local Indigenous communities about a toxic tailings leak from Imperial Oil’s (IMO.TO) Kearl oil sands mine in northern Alberta.

Appearing before a parliamentary committee in Ottawa, Laurie Pushor echoed an apology made by Imperial’s CEO last week. His comments come after representatives of First Nations and Métis communities called on the regulator to be disbanded.

“It is clear that neither Imperial nor the AER met community expectations to ensure they are fully aware of what is and what was happening. And for that I am truly sorry,” Pushor said.

Imperial, a unit of Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), first spotted discolored water pooling near its Kearl site in May. The company informed the AER and local Indigenous communities, but failed to tell those communities the water contained tailings until February, after a second leak.

Tailings, a waste product of mining, are a toxic mixture of sand, clay, residual bitumen and water containing naphthenic acids and metals. On Saturday the AER launched an investigation after Suncor Energy (SU.TO) reported 32 dead waterfowl at one of its oil sands tailings ponds.

Imperial told the AER the water seeping from Kearl contained tailings in August, Pushor said. By February, the regulator was preparing to issue an environmental protection order to Imperial over the seepage, when the second leak occurred.

Pushor told the committee that if he could go back in time, the AER would look at all its protocols and consider how “broadly and diligently” the regulator should communicate with the public around tailings incidents.

The AER is investigating Imperial’s conduct throughout the incident, while the AER’s board of directors has launched an independent review of the regulator’s internal process.

In March, the Alberta information commissioner announced an investigation into whether the AER had an obligation to disclose the Kearl tailings leak to the public.

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