More than 120 birds dead after landing in oil sands tailings ponds during severe weather

Heavy fog and severe weather during fall migration may have played a role in the deaths of more than 120 birds in Alberta, Canada in early November 2014. The birds landed at three oilsand facilities' tailings ponds. Syncrude, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) and Suncor each reported oiled birds at their facilities.

 Alberta Energy Regulator, the government agency which oversees oilsands operations, is leading the investigation into the incident. The province’s Environment and Energy Ministers, were notified, as were the national agencies Environment Canada, Fish and Wildlife, and Environment and Sustainable Resources.

Fog is known to cause migratory birds to interrupt their travels, landing abruptly to wait for the weather to lift. Heavy rain or snow and high winds may also result in fallouts in areas without appropriate habitat, causing losses of birds. All three companies had deterrent devices in action after having noted increased bird activity in the area. Whether those deterrents reduced the numbers of birds affected is not clear at this time.

In June of 2010, Syncrude was found guilty of failing to prevent the deaths of more than 1,600 ducks at their tailing pond in northern Alberta during an incident in 2008. Syncrude’s tailings pond is seen at the top of the photo accompanying this article. Since that time all three oilsands companies have improved their deterrent device use. Efforts are also being made to ensure that all oil companies are phasing out liquid tailings ponds in favor of dry ponds.

Local wildlife rehabilitation group Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton (WRSE), which was involved in wildlife responses to a 2005 oil spill and a 2013 bitumen leak in the province, expressed disappointment that most of the birds in this latest incident died or had to be euthanised and called for the development of a specialised oiled wildlife centre in the area to respond more quickly, potentially reducing losses should another incident occur.

Resources:

Update: 122 birds dead after landing on three separate oilsands sites. Global News Canada. Accessed online 2 December 2014
Wildlife rehab group disappointed most of 122 oiled birds euthanized. Global News Canada. Accessed online 2 December 2014