Ottawa seeks better reporting on environmental emergencies after Kearl oilsands leak

By Courtney Theriault and The Canadian Press

Chiefs of First Nations affected by leaks of oilsands wastewater have testified before a House of Commons committee, where they excoriated Alberta over how it regulates energy development.

It comes in response to a nine-month delay from Imperial Oil and Alberta’s Energy Regulator (AER) reporting a wastewater leak of more than five million litres from the Kearl oilsands mine.

Six First Nations leaders say the problem goes far deeper than a communications issue over a single leak.

They described repeated concerns over how the cumulative impacts from the oilsands may be affecting their health.

“To withhold information for ten months or how many years is absurd and appalling,” Chief Allan Adam said Monday.

“I’m asking for a seat at the table to make the decisions – either we give the green light, or we give nothing. Right now, everyone has been given the green light, and all we’re getting back is, ‘What type of cancer will you have?’ We’ll tell you.”

Indigenous leaders say they use those lands for hunting, fishing, and drinking water.

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Those testifying say this delayed response on the spill proves they’re being left out of the conversation.

In addition, they say the AER is a captured agency that constantly favours industry and is concerned more about the industry’s reputation than its environmental effects.

“Who can give me certainty that when these kids go in the water in the springtime and the summertime when they swim that they’ll be safe? That’s what we want as a community,” said Chief Billy-Joe Tuccaro.

“One of the purest lessons of this crisis at Kearl is that it has reconfirmed that the AER is a captured regulator that is simply not a trusted partner in protecting federal interest in our communities.”

Imperial Oil and the AER are slated to testify at the committee Thursday.

The leader’s testimony came hours after federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announced the first step toward an improved reporting process for environmental emergencies.

He says the testimony will help guide a new notification and monitoring working group being assembled by Ottawa and Alberta.

The House of Commons Environment and Sustainability Committee is hearing testimony regarding releases from tailings ponds that weren’t made public for nine months.

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