A major concern for stakeholders near the oil sands is the health of Alberta’s Athabasca River. Not only does it provide drinking water for a number of riverside communities as well as feed Lake Athabasca, from which First Nations take their fish, it is also a source of water for the industry itself.
Protecting the Athabasca is complicated by the fact that naturally occurring outcrops of bitumen deposit heavy metals and hydrocarbons into the river as it flows through the basin, and have been doing so for thousands of years. Peter Pond, an early explorer of the area noted this in his travels. Also, oil sands production is not the only industry on the river. Several timber pulp mills are upstream and abandoned uranium mines are found downstream.
Nonetheless, there have been repeated claims, most recently by Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta, that oil sands operations are measurably polluting the river. (See Oil sands development contributes elements toxic at low concentrations to the Athabasca RIver and its tributaries.) This has prompted the provincial government to form a special scientific panel to re-analyse the data. The federal government has constituted a scientific panel of its own.
Suncor’s efforts to minimize its impact on the Athabasca include analyzing and treating process and surface water to meet provincial water discharge requirements, monitoring groundwater quality, and ongoing testing to assess any impact on the river by Suncor’s operations. For details on this and other steps Suncor takes to protect water, visit our website.
Suncor supports the study of the Athabasca River and transparency on reporting water quality monitoring data. We believe the public, the government and our critics are entitled to know the facts.