Today there is a bit more news on the 500 ducks killed at a Syncrude tailings pond in Alberta. This is not the first such incident. Researchers with the Boreal Songbird Initiative have recorded many bird deaths in tailings ponds over the past 30 years.
-At least 15 species of waterfowl have already been documented as having been killed on Syncrude Tar Sands tailings ponds along with an amazing 22 species of non-waterfowl.The duck deaths are a major embarrassment and potential legal liability for Syncrude and other companies invested in boreal tar sands mining. Even before the incident, tar sands lobbyists had been trying to overturn a recent provision in U.S. law that forbid the use of liquid fuels with a higher carbon lifecycle than conventional gas. Canadian government ministers have been trying to reassure the Canadian and American publics that they are investigating the incident very seriously despite Syncrude's public apology.
-Research at tailings ponds in the late 1970's based on once a week surveys of two Syncrude tailings ponds observed at least 100-300 birds killed annually. Since this was based only on birds observed floating or on the sides of the ponds once a week there was clearly a larger number of birds that sunk or were unobservable so these numbers represent a minimum mortality from only two tailings ponds.
-At single tailings pond sites, research has documented tens of thousands of waterfowl and other wetland-dependent birds migrating over in periods of weeks during spring and fall migration.
-Based on research at the Alberta tar sands tailings ponds it is well documented that birds are most likely to land on the ponds at night, under weather conditions that restrict visiblity and when surrounding natural lakes and ponds are frozen under such conditions there is a very high risk of large numbers of casualties because waterfowl and shorebirds and other wetland dependent birds normally travel in flocks that can regularly number into the hundreds and sometimes into the thousands or tens of thousands. The conditions under which these large mortality events are likely to occur are also periods when it is unlikely that the ponds are monitored in order to observe mortality events. Because of this it is highly likely that mortality events like this may have occurred more frequently than reported.