Suncor has now confirmed that a wastewater leak from an outfall pond at its oilsands plant north of Fort McMurray, Alta., did enter the Athabasca River.
Samples from the leak have been sent to a lab for a rush analysis, according to Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen.
McQueen said she doesn’t want to make any presumptions about the nature or volume of the leaked wastewater, but did say that source of the leak — a pipe that froze and broke on Monday — has been contained and the emergency is over.
Officials at Suncor say untreated water used for extraction and upgrading flowed into a partially-frozen outfall pond, where it mixed with water that had been treated.
Alberta Environment believes the leak occurred around 11:30 a.m. MT, but Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal said the timeline still has to be determined.
The flow was stopped around 4 p.m., but Seetal says it is not known how much water was released. The time is an important factor in determining the volume of water involved, said Seetal.
She said authorities were alerted around 1 p.m. and people who live downstream of the plant have also been notified.
“We are taking this incident very seriously,” said Seetal.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is also closely monitoring the leak.
He said the community has not received any special instructions regarding safety or drinking water concerns from either Suncor or the government.
“We are closely monitoring [the situation] and will have people on the ground today to do a site visit,” said Adam.
One of the biggest issues following events like this is accountability, he said.
“With the poor monitoring, poor regulations and the poor [environmental] enhancement act in place, we’ll continue to see ruptures like this take place. Nobody will be held accountable for it — but the fact remains that this is an ongoing issue.”
“Our position is that we always want to tighten the belt when it comes to the Environmental Regulatory Enhancement [Act],” said Adam. “That will hold industry accountable for their actions.”