GEO ExPro

Concerned About the Environment

Syncrude, the Canadian energy giant that is producing some 350,000bopd from the oil sands in Alberta, has been charged with the deaths of nearly 500 ducks in a massive, toxic settling pond in April 2008. Pictures of sludge-covered birds garnered international attention. The operator highly regrets the incident and says "we feel horrible this occurred and there's a huge resolve in our organization since then to implement the appropriate changes to help prevent it from happening again."
This article appeared in Vol. 6, No. 2 - 2009

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The Syncrude facility for bitumen extraction and upgrading north of Fort McMurray. Photo: Halfdan Carstens The ponds are used by oil sands mining companies to store water used in the upgrading process. Particles of heavy bitumen, sand and clay settle out in the ponds so the water can be reused. They are a necessary and environmentally friendly part of the extraction process.  

We all want to protect the environment. It belongs to our common future. Nevertheless, it is important to put incidents like this into a perspective. The 500 ducks are next to nothing in comparison to the millions of birds and animals killed every year in North America and elsewhere by vehicles, windmills, buildings, airplanes, and - I'm sorry to say - hunters. I certainly agree with Deborah Yedlin in Calgary Herald who says that "the bird ecosystem is challenged or threatened by every aspect of human life on a daily basis around the world, not just the tailings ponds associated with the oilsands in northern Alberta."  

The vendetta against the oilsands operations put forward by so-called environmentalists is not doing the environment a favour. The problem is that they are focusing on small problems that can easily be resolved without devastating conflicts. In this way they stay away from really big problems (and the big kills).  

We all know that the oilsands operations are causing big headlines, and the oil companies are an easy target as their ability to stand up against unfair critique has not been very impressive. We should all hope they could improve their skills in this respect.

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