Chief Allan Adam, Alberta NDP want review and new leadership of AER

The comments come after the AER confirmed last week two major spills at the Fort Hills and Kearl oilsands sites.

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Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is calling for new leadership at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and that the organization be “reviewed and overhauled.” 

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Adam’s comments, which were made at a Monday press conference with Alberta NDP Environment Critic Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, come after the regulator confirmed two major leaks at oilsands facilities that have happened in recent weeks.

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“When it comes to the AER and their policies, they need to do a better job because they’re failing big time,” said Adam. “We were supposed to be the first to be notified. It turns out that we are the last to be notified and if the AER had their way with industry, I don’t think they would even notify us.”

Calahoo Stonehouse said Energy Minister Brian Jean was “disgusting” and “disrespectful” when he called a recent release of treated water and sediment more than three times the limit for that river as “muddy water.” She accused Jean of not taking the situation seriously and called for his resignation.

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“If the head of the AER won’t do his job, if Brian Jean won’t do his job, then I think they both need to resign,” she said. “Our people, the water, the wildlife, and their health and safety are far too important.”

A tailings pond at Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake oilsands operation north of Fort McMurray on February 25, 2023. Image by Nicholas Vardy for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation

ACFN frustrated with multiple reports of spills in 2023

The press conference comes after the AER confirmed last week that a pond at Suncor’s Fort Hills site that reportedly spilled 662 cubic metres into the Athabasca River on Oct. 9 actually spilled nearly 10,000 cubic metres. The regulator added that Suncor said the release may have started around June 2022. The cause is likely a faulty valve.

The regulator said the contaminated water from Suncor “is not related to mining, extraction or tailings processes, and contains precipitation and snow melt water.” 

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The AER also confirmed last week that on Nov. 13, Imperial Oil’s Kearl site released about 670,000 litres of treated water with 140 parts per million (ppm) of total suspended solids. The allowable limit for the Muskeg River at the time that the incident occurred was 42 ppm.

Kearl has been the site of two large releases of toxic wastewater. The first release was from a tailings pond and was spotted in May 2022. Communities would not get another update for another nine months. That update came in late January when 5.3 million litres of industrial wastewater spilled from a tailings pond into surrounding forests and wetlands.

The AER and the impacted companies say water samples from both areas are within safe parameters. However, Adam is furious with how quickly his community has learned about incidents at oilsands facilities and environmental safety.

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Brian Jean
Minister of Energy and Minerals Brian Jean takes part in a press conference where the Province outlined a new initiative to accelerate carbon capture in the province, at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton Tuesday Nov. 28, 2023. Photo by David Bloom

“They’re not doing its job. Everything that they’re pumping out is flawed. It’s flawed information to the public. They’re not credible enough to do anything,” said Adam. “The federal government should step in and go with (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) and regulate this whole regime and do it properly because there are a lot of missing gaps in the AER.”

Jean has not commented on Calahoo Stonehouse’s call for his resignation. In an email, Jean said the AER and Suncor are working on resolving the issue, and are speaking with communities and stakeholders.

He added the recent sediment spill from Imperial Oil’s Kearl site will not threaten drinking water or the environment around Fort Chipewyan.

“I’ve had – and will continue to have – tough conversations with the mine operator. As a lifelong resident of the region, I understand the communities’ concerns,” said Jean.

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