Varcoe: AER head 'actually sorry' for Kearl spill, however questions over company's response linger

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The top of the Alberta Power Regulator (AER) says it was Imperial Oil’s duty to inform close by communities about seepage and a spill of industrial wastewater on the Kearl oilsands mine — however Laurie Pushor apologized for the communication shortcomings by his company.

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It’s the second set of apologies issued at parliamentary hearings in Ottawa, made to Indigenous communities positioned close to the oilsands mine that had been unaware for months in regards to the wastewater seeping on the website final 12 months.

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After three hearings by the committee up to now week, it’s obvious the regulator has loads of work to do to rebuild confidence from affected communities in northern Alberta — one thing it dedicated to.

“It’s clear that neither Imperial nor the AER met neighborhood expectations to make sure they’re absolutely conscious of what’s, and what was, occurring. And for that, I’m actually sorry,” Pushor testified Monday on the parliamentary committee on the atmosphere and sustainable growth.

“Imperial had an obligation to tell any one who knew or should know that could be straight affected by the discharge.”

The committee started holding hearings final week, with First Nations and Metis leaders describing the impact of the wastewater leak and seepage from the exterior tailings space on the Kearl website — operated by Imperial Oil — together with neighborhood fears in regards to the security of consuming water within the area.

Laurie Pushor, president and chief executive officer of the Alberta Energy Regulator.
Laurie Pushor, president and chief govt officer of the Alberta Power Regulator. Photograph by Alberta Power Regulator

On Thursday, Imperial Oil CEO Brad Corson apologized a number of occasions for the corporate’s insufficient communications, whereas detailing its efforts to unravel the seepage difficulty.

Throughout water sampling final Could, Imperial seen orange discoloured pooled water — containing arsenic, dissolved iron and hydrocarbons — in areas near the Kearl lease boundary.

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A day after the incident was reported to the regulator, an AER inspector went to the positioning and the corporate was directed to conduct geochemistry evaluation, set up groundwater monitoring wells and implement a water high quality sampling program, Pushor stated.

Corson stated the regulator and close by communities had been initially notified; the corporate didn’t comply with up with the leaders of the close by Indigenous communities or present updates for 9 months.

By the tip of January, the AER was making ready to difficulty an environmental safety order (EPO) when the second launch occurred, Pushor testified.

In January, about 5.3 million litres of wastewater overflowed from a drainage pond on the mine; Imperial’s CEO cited a mixture of kit issues and course of failures for it.

Imperial says testing reveals the releases didn’t have an effect on wildlife or consuming water within the space.

Imperial Oil president and CEO Brad Corson, pictured here in 2019, faced tough questions during a parliamentary committee hearing into the company’s tailings leaks at the Kearl oilsands mine.
Imperial Oil president and CEO Brad Corson, pictured right here in 2019, confronted powerful questions throughout a parliamentary committee listening to into the corporate’s tailings leaks on the Kearl oilsands mine. Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

The AER is planning to rent an impartial social gathering to research its personal response to the incidents, pledging to launch the outcomes to the general public.

“This is just one instance of the poor regulatory system that’s the AER. These a long time of poor regulation require change and an overhaul,” Carmen Wells, director of lands and regulatory administration with the Fort Chipewyan Métis Nation Affiliation, testified Monday.

Underneath questioning from NDP MP Heather McPherson, Pushor wouldn’t point out when the provincial authorities was first notified of the seepage — citing the upcoming exterior evaluation — however stated he spoke with Alberta officers a day or two earlier than an EPO was issued to Imperial in February.

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However it’s nonetheless unclear why senior AER officers wouldn’t have advised somebody inside the provincial authorities final 12 months in regards to the issues, permitting them to inform the Northwest Territories as a part of a bilateral watershed-sharing settlement between the governments.

In an interview, Mikisew Cree First Nation Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro stated there are nonetheless considerations in the neighborhood in regards to the leak and its potential impact on water and wildlife harvested within the space.

He questions why the regulator wouldn’t attain out and make contact with communities if the corporate didn’t accomplish that adequately, noting it’s the AER that points permits to the trade.

“I don’t settle for that apology till the rules are modified,” he stated.

“I don’t get it. How can the AER say it’s not their duty to inform the communities . . . For him to say that, it’s the rationale why we will‘t settle for their apology. They’re not honest.”

And that’s skepticism the AER now faces: it’s accountable for offering regulatory oversight, but it didn’t step in when the communities didn’t have the complete info of what was happening for months of their space.

“I didn’t suppose that reconciled very properly,” stated Michael Solberg, a accomplice with New West Public Affairs, which offers authorities relations and strategic communications recommendation.

“The AER ought to have a mandate and will have notification duty when these kinds of issues happen.”

Former AER govt Mark Taylor agreed the regulator doesn’t have the duty to let affected communities know when such an incident happens. And with an investigation underway by the quasi-judicial company, there’s a restrict to what the CEO can say.

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However doing “all the pieces by the e-book” doesn’t let it off the hook.

“It’s the stakeholder’s resolution as as to whether you lived as much as their expectations,” stated Taylor, a principal with Taylor Power Advisors.

“It’s important to apologize.”

Pushor took the primary vital step — and made a dedication to enhancing — however now the regulator has to show that it’s going to make vital modifications.

“There isn’t any doubt in any respect that the considerations in the neighborhood are actual,” he stated.

“And we have to do all the pieces in our energy to allay these considerations.”

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

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