Oil-soaked Birds

It’s an awful image to behold, no matter where it comes from–oil coated and soaked birds either dead or dying. But it’s even more awful to behold in your own province that used to be known for its pristine lakes and wilderness. That latter image is now badly damaged. However in reality, it was something that was inevitable. You cannot have large bodies of polluted water positioned under one of North America’s major flyways without migrating waterfowl coming down to rest there, sooner or later. 

I’m talking about the estimated 500 ducks that mistakenly landed in Syncrude’s oil sands tailings pond near Fort McMurray in northeast Alberta. It’s ironic to me that this occurred when it did because I just came back from Fort McMurray last week after visiting Suncor’s plant just off the Athabasca River. Suncor also has tailings ponds, they go with the business of extracting sticky oil from sand; and we were shown those ponds, including some of the provisions to keep waterfowl off of them. The buoys sporting scare-crow type objects seemed to be working. Of course, I don’t know what happened at Syncrude’s operation but it’s a disaster that is not doing Alberta any good, no matter which way you look at it.

The ponds, no matter who owns them, are a problem. They are designed to allow the residual oil and sand to separate so that actions can be taken to dispose of both in an environmentally friendly manner. However, from what I’ve read, it appears it may take decades for this process to be accomplished. In the meantime, they mar the landscape and present a constant threat to the surrounding environment, including the health of the Athabasca and associated rivers. One can’t help but wonder if the mining of these sands is a compact with the devil, an agreement that will be difficult to break. Only time will tell.



About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
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