NW Week

Indigenous leaders in the N.W.T. oppose releasing toxic oil sands waste into waterways

N.W.T. oppose releasing toxic oil sands waste

Key Takeaways:

  • Smith’s Landing Chief Gerry Cheezie is concerned that proposed federal regulations.
  • They will allow toxic oil sands tailings from northern Alberta to pollute NWT waterways.

“We’re one of many societies that would be impacted,” Cheezie explained. “We’ll have to keep fighting this insane plan they’ve devised.” Smith’s Landing is located in Alberta, just south of Fort Smith, along the Slave River, downstream from oil sands almost near the Athabasca River.

“The mines have been in operation for more than 40 years.” During that time, they have been emitting pollution into the atmosphere and the water.”

Samantha Bayard, the spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), confirmed in an email that the government is setting Oil Sands Mining Effluent Regulations underneath the Fisheries Act to “reduce the want for new tailing ponds to store mine waste or accelerate future reclamation of mining sites.”

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toxic oil sands waste into waterways; Image from NNSL News

The shift occurs as the volume of tailings increases, as do the risks of seepage from tailings ponds and flooding. She stated that the regulations would “ensure” that authorized effluent releases would take place only under strict quality standards to minimize environmental risks.

IN JANUARY, the ECCC established a Crown-Indigenous Working Group, comprising nine First Nations or Métis Nations in the Athabasca region, to help ensure effluent regulations protect the environment and address potential risks impacts to Indigenous rights from effluent releases, according to Bayard.

Indigenous communities that are not part of the working group may also be involved in the process.

Shane Thompson, Minister of Environment or Natural Resources, stated in the Legislative Assembly on December 7 that the GNWT is working to gain a seat at the table in the regulatory negotiations. He also said that he opposes the release of tailings into the environment.

According to a 2020 report from the Council for Environmental Cooperation, “processed water” from the ponds has seeped into nearby groundwater and possibly into rivers, of the approximately 1.4 trillion liters of tailings consisting of water, sand, and residual bitumen contained in ponds.

Source: NNSL

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