Blog | March 28, 2013

By Vincent McDermott, March 27, 2013 Fort McMurray TodaySuncor Energy and the Alberta government are facing the wrath of Canada’s environmental movement, after a pipeline leaked untreated water into the Athabasca River over a 10 hour period on Monday. The river is the primary source of drinking water for downstream aboriginal communities, including Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan.Eleven organizations, led by Greenpeace, sent an open letter to the Alberta government Wednesday morning, demanding the release of photographs of the accident that saw diluted process-affected water flow into the river, how the break was detected and how close the spill to the Athabasca River was.It also demanded to know how long the leak lasted and how much waste water contaminated the river, information that was unknown when the letter was written.“It’s been about 48 hours since the leak was discovered and stopped and we don’t have any answers,” said Chelsea Flook, executive director of the Sierra Club Prairie Chapter, on Wednesday. “When an accident happens in any kind of industry, I think people demand timely information and answers to these questions.”What is known is that on Monday morning, a frozen pipe burst, allowing process-affected water into a pond of treated water. The resulting solution was released into the Athabasca River at an approved discharge point. The leak was contained at 4 p.m. the same day.Suncor’s tests confirm the process-affected water was a mixture of water and suspended solids, such as clays and fine particulates. “It does not contain bitumen,” a company statement said.Process-affected water is used in the extraction and upgrading process. A company statement says the process-affected water “may have had a short term, negligible impact on the river.”“A 10 hour leak calls into question Suncor’s ability to manage their operations properly,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada. “Why did it take them so long to get this under control? What does it mean for the future? If anything, the release gives us even more questions.”Of particular ire for Hudema is the absence of any photographs of the scene. With the absence of an established independent monitoring system, he says photographs are the only objective way for the public to judge Suncor’s response.Suncor representative Nicole Fisher said she was unsure if the company would release photographs of the event. In an email, Alberta Environment spokesperson Wayne Wood said he did not know if the province or Suncor even had pictures.“Albertans deserve to see what impacts this industry has on the environment,” said Hudema. “As for our questions, these are questions the Alberta government should have immediate answers to. If they don’t, that’s much more worrying.”Although Suncor’s Wednesday evening statement may have answered some questions addressed in the letter, a statement released from environment minister Diana McQueen did not address any of the concerns raised. Instead, it assured the public tests were being run by an independent lab to assess toxicity, which will take several days.“We want to make sure that the test results are accurate and that we have a full and complete analysis to share with Albertans,” said McQueen. “This testing includes both biological and chemical analysis. We will let you know the results of that analysis as soon as they have been reviewed by department experts.”In addition to Greenpeace Canada and the Sierra Club, the letter has been signed by the Alberta Surface Rights Group, Council of Canadians, Forest Ethics Advocacy, Indigenous Environmental Network, Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign, Keepers of the Athabasca, Public Interest Alberta, Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs, and the Springvale Surface Rights Association.vincent.mcdermott@sunmedia.caRead the article  at Fort McMurray Today