Death of ducks in tailings ponds is part of broader societal issues

8 Nov 2014
Calgary Herald
STEPHEN EWART
Death of ducks in tailings ponds is part of broader societal issues
The latest duck deaths in the oilsands is sad, but to single out tailings ponds as disproportionately dangerous for migrating waterfowl is for the birds.
Environment Canada and the Alberta Energy Regulator are investigating the deaths of about 150 birds after they landed on the tailings ponds at three oilsands mines near Fort McMurray.
It immediately brought to mind the uproar over the deaths of 1,600 ducks in a tailings pond in 2008 that became a rallying point for environmental groups in the campaign against oilsands development.
If anything has become apparent in the six years since then, it’s that energy projects — wind turbines, solar panels, power lines, LNG terminals, oil and gas drilling — along with other industrial developments are all deathly dangerous to birds.
Ultimately, it’s the trappings of our modern society — running the gamut from office towers to house cats — in addition to the ever- growing demand for energy that’s killing birds in record numbers.
A seven- year study by The Audubon Society published in September concluded climate change is a threat to 314 of 588 migratory bird species in North America.
Shrinking and shifting ranges could imperil nearly half of U. S. birds in this century, said the New York- based conservation group.
“Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50 per cent of their current range by 2050,” the report warned.
One section of the report references the oil and gas boom in the Bakken formation in North Dakota, along with farming, and its impact on prairie grasslands that are “critical breeding grounds for millions of birds.”
“Protecting a portion of the region for birds could mean the difference between survival and extinction for some species,” The Audubon Society warned.
The study suggests some species will adapt to a new climate, others will not.
The concern isn’t limited to North America.
A study published this month in the journal Ecology Letters calculated there are 421 million fewer birds in Europe than in 1980 and linked the 20 per cent decline in bird populations to human- related environmental degradation.
For environmentalists it’s the canary in the coal mine.
Notwithstanding the limited progress toward the often stated goal of eliminating toxic tailings ponds in the oilsands, the challenges to protecting birds go well beyond a half- dozen mines in northern Alberta.
Last month, Canaport LNG in Saint John, N. B. was charged under Canada’s migratory birds and species at risk acts after an estimated 7,500 songbirds died flying through a gas flare. In August, it was reported up to 28,000 birds a year could be killed from the concentrated beams of solar energy at a newly opened BrightSource Energy plant in California’s Mojave Desert.
The birds literally ignite in mid- air.
A study on avian mortality by Environment Canada in 2013 found cats account for 200 million dead birds annually in this country while collisions with buildings, houses and automobiles claim close to 40 million, and 25 million die from power lines.
At tailings ponds’ safety measures include radar, noise cannons and scarecrows.
“We will review our waterfowl deterrent system to determine if any improvements can be made to reduce the risk of these events from occurring in the future,” Canadian Natural Resources said after it counted 106 dead birds this week in the first incident since its Horizon oilsands mine opened in 2009.
The other birds died at tailings ponds operated by Syncrude Canada and Suncor Energy. The two companies were exonerated when more than 500 ducks died in 2010 after landing on their tailings ponds. Syncrude was fined $ 3 million for the deaths of the 1,600 birds at its site in 2008.
Nobody should downplay the death of birds in the oilsands, nor should it be overstated. The broader issues are the real challenge.
As with the alarming collapse of bee colonies in recent years, and the implications for societies that depend on fertilizers and insecticides to gasoline and electricity to sustain their quality of life, it should be evident there are rarely simple solutions to complex problems.

About prosperitysaskatchewan

Consultant on Saskatchewan's natural resources.

Posted on November 9, 2014, in miscellaneous, oil. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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