Saturday, October 23, 2010

Syncrude Sentenced for Waterbird Deaths

Syncrude will have to pay a $3 million fine for the deaths of 1600 migratory waterbirds in one of its oil tailings ponds in Alberta.
Judge Ken Tjosvold fined Syncrude Canada Ltd. $3 million for the deaths of about 1,600 birds on its Aurora tailings pond in April 2008. The birds died after the company failed to get its deterrent system out on time. The sentence was a joint submission from the company's lawyers and government prosecutors.

Tjosvold found Syncrude guilty of breaking Sect. 155 of the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and Sect. 5.1(1) of the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act in June, but held off on sentencing until Friday so lawyers could work out a creative sentence.
The sentence includes three requirements, with a deadline of November 30 for payment:
First, Syncrude must pay $300,000 to the federal government and $500,000 to the province — the maximum fines allowed by law. Both fines include the victim's fine surcharge. The federal fine and half the provincial fine will go into general revenue.

The other half of the provincial fine, or $250,000, will go to Fort McMurray's Keyano College to create a wildlife management diploma program, said provincial prosecutor Susan McRory. This would help teach locals to monitor and protect wildlife in the oilsands region.

Second, Syncrude must give the Alberta Conservation Association $900,000 to buy about 24 hectares of wetlands near North Cooking Lake, located about 27 kilometres east of Edmonton.

The land purchase would complete the association's efforts to protect a 600-hectare wetland called Golden Ranches, said federal prosecutor Kent Brown, which is part of a large migratory bird corridor. It would also give many Edmontonians a chance to learn about the importance of wetlands.

Third, Syncrude must give the University of Alberta $1.3 million to research bird deterrents on tailings ponds. “The simple way to describe it is ‘how to build a better bird deterrent program,'” McRory said.

Colleen Cassady St. Clair, the University of Alberta biologist picked to head the research program, said her team would spend the next three years testing bird deterrents to figure out which ones work best.
The $3 million fine was the largest fine issued for environmental violations in Alberta. It might have been larger if the government sought a fine on a per-bird basis.