The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has found enough evidence to warrant an investigation into the Canadian government’s failure to enforce the federal Fisheries Act, with respect to continuous leaking from Alberta’s toxic oil sands tailings ponds.
Since 2010, the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Canada-based Environmental Defence, as well as three private Canadian citizens, have argued that the Canadian government has failed to take measures against Alberta’s toxic oils sands tailings.
The environmental groups’ case is based on data from corporate proposals obtained in 2008 by Pembina Corporate Consulting. The data shows that approximately 11 million litres of toxic liquid tailings waste from tar sands operations leak into surrounding ecosystems every day, or upwards of four billion litres per year. The groups claim these numbers will only increase as oil sands development expands, and that some 95 per cent of the water used in the operations is “too toxic to be returned to the watershed and is eventually stored in the giant, leaking, tailings lakes.”
“It is an ongoing tragedy that the federal government will not let anything get in the way of accelerated tar sands development, including the health of citizens downstream from the tar sands, and the surrounding environment,” Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence said in an August 7, 2014 statement.
Specifically, the groups’ toxic liquid tailings allegations relate to subsection 36(3) of the federal Fisheries Act, which prohibits waste from being deposited in habitats frequented by fish.
While the CEC does have enforcement powers for environmental pollution, the reach of those powers has rarely been tested on such a large scale as the allegations surrounding the oil sands’ leakage. The Commission cannot penalize Canada in any direct way as much as it can publish factual findings to the international community, findings that would undoubtedly counter Canada’s stance that its oil sands operations are environmentally sustainable.