OTTAWA — Canadian environmental authorities on Monday charged Syncrude in the death of 500 migrating ducks that landed in its oil sands sewage ponds in western Canada.
The waterfowl died after being coated in April 2008 with toxic oil residue from an Alberta mine left behind in the ponds by Syncrude Canada Limited, the world’s largest producer of synthetic crude oil from oil sands.
Officials allege Syncrude did not use noise makers designed to scare birds from the contaminated ponds and did not immediately report the ducks’ demise, as required by law.
“This was the single largest reported incident of oiled birds in the oil-sands region,” Environment Canada said in a statement. The Alberta government called it “an environmental tragedy.”
“We are protective of our environment, of ducks, of conservation in this country,” said Environment Minister Jim Prentice. “We have laws. We expect them to be abided by and there will be consequences for people who don’t live up to the full extent of the Canadian conservation environmental laws.”
Syncrude said it has cooperated with the investigation and “continues to treat the matter very seriously.”
A cold snap, it said, had delayed the deployment of noise makers last spring.
The company faces a maximum fine of 800,000 Canadian dollars ($655,000) and six months in jail for directors, under Canada’s Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.
The Aurora North Site mine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Fort McMurray, is operated by Syncrude. It is owned by a joint venture that includes ConocoPhillips, Imperial Oil and Petro-Canada.
A first court appearance is set for March 25 in Fort McMurray.