N.W.T. says lack of notice on oilsands tailings spill goes against deal with Alberta


The government of the Northwest Territories says Alberta didn’t tell it about two major oilsands tailings spills on waters that flow into the territory, despite a legal agreement obliging it to do so.

Shane Thompson, the territory’s environment minister, says he didn’t learn about the two spills of at least 5.3-million litres until Wednesday.

Alberta Environment and Protected Areas hasn’t responded to questions about when it first learned of the spills.

The first began in May, when workers at Imperial Oil’s Kearl oilsands mine noticed seepage from one of its tailings ponds.

A second release was spotted in February when tailings escaped from a storage pond.

Thompson says he has spoken with Alberta Environment Minister Sonya Savage several times since the first release and she didn’t mention it — although the two departments have been in touch this week.

He says the poor communication is not encouraging as Alberta and Ottawa work out how tailings will be released into the waters of the Athabasca River, which flow into the N.W.T.

A 2015 agreement between the two jurisdictions obliges one party to immediately inform the other of any emergencies or environmental changes to the river.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.