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On January 2, 2019 Syncrude Canada Ltd. pled guilty in the Alberta Court to one count of violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 along with several provincial charges.

An abandoned sump pond by Syncrude at one of its oilsands mines north of Fort McMurray resulted in the death of 31 great blue herons. Syncrude pled guilty and was fined approximately $2.75 million dollars.

A fine of $1.775 million was imposed for violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and $975,000 for violating the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

The sump pond, at one point in time, was more than one kilometre in length, 400 metres wide and eight metres deep.  At the time of the incident the pond had been partially drained and was dry for several years. According to the various reports, Syncrude had been unable to complete remediate the pond and it contained hold liquids, solids and bitumen[1].

In 2015, the blue herons were found either dead or dying at the abandoned sump pond at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake mine.

Fencing and bird deterrents were installed immediately on all ponds after the incident in an effort to keep the wildlife away from the area. Since these charges the sump pond has been completely drained at the cost of $16 million.

Charges under the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act were $975,000 of which $950,000 is directed into a fund administered by the Alberta Energy Regulator to be used for projects that increase wildlife habitat or reclaim land.

The majority of the penalty, approximately $1.8 million related to federal charges under the Migratory Birds Act and directed to the Environmental Damages Fund.

The Environmental Damages Fund was created in 1995 and is administered by Environment and Climate Change. The Environmental Damages Fund provides a mechanism to use the funds received as a result in fines, court orders, and voluntary payments for projects that benefit the natural environment.

Syncrude was the subject of a similar fine in the amount of $3 million, in 2010 after more than 1,600 ducks died when they landed on a tailings pond.

[1] Oil sand are a natural mixture of sand, water and bitumen (oil that is too heavy or thick to flow on its own).

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