Less than 1 per cent of the environmental violations arising out of Alberta’s tar sands have been penalized. So says a survey by Kevin Timoney, a biologist and environmental consultant, and Peter Lee of Global Forest Watch.
The authors of the 677-page report found the same problems recurring again and again, suggesting that the province’s claims to having strict control over the industry’s environmental impact are false.
“What we’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg”, said Timoney, who filed a massive number of Freedom of Information applications, starting in 2008, in order to see details of breaches of environmental regulations and conditions that were kept under wraps in Alberta Environment’s data library in Edmonton.
Timoney and Lee eventually compiled a list of 9,262 infractions since 1996 – ranging from spills into the Athabasca River, to excessive smokestack emissions, to the discovery of random waste dumps in the bush.
Nearly two-thirds of the violations were of air quality, usually involving emissions of gases like suphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide in excess of the hourly limits on the tar sands facilities.
Of the total number of incidents, about 4,000 were reported as “alleged contraventions” – a breach in a facility’s license conditions. Since 1996, the Alberta government took action in 37 of those cases for an enforcement rate of 0.9 per cent.
The median fine was $4,500. Call it a minor cost of doing this dirty, but highly profitable business.