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Alberta Energy Regulator reports runoff spill at Suncor's Fort Hills oilsands site

The Suncor Energy Centre is pictured in downtown Calgary, Alta., Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — A spill of surface runoff from a containment pond at Suncor Energy’s Fort Hills oilsands site may have spanned more than a year, the Alberta Energy Regulator has announced. 

The regulator said that on Oct. 9, the energy company reported an “unplanned release” of around 662 cubic metres from the pond adjacent to Fort Hills into the Athabasca River. 

But on Nov. 24, Suncor informed the regulator that the spill was likely much larger than originally reported. 

"... Further investigation of this matter indicated the unplanned release volume may have been closer to 10,000 cubic metres," the regulator said a news release issued on Friday. "Suncor has also informed the AER that the unplanned release may have been in effect since June 2022 and believe the cause of the release is likely to be a faulty valve."

Suncor has taken water quality samples of the pond, the results of which indicate the water spilled into the river was “within release criteria parameters for discharge," the AER said. 

The pond the water was released from “is not related to mining, extraction or tailings processes, and contains precipitation and snow melt water," it said. 

Suncor also offered reassurances on Saturday that the water in question posed no threat.

"This water does not come into contact with any processes on our site," Suncor spokeswoman Jessica Depencier said in an emailed statement. 

She said testing in 2022 and 2023 showed the water in the collection pond met regulatory release criteria, and Suncor has "no evidence indicating any of the water that may have been released would not have met regulatory requirements. " 

The regulator said it visited the site and found the valve is not currently leaking, adding it will be reviewing sampling data from June 2022 through to November 2023. 

Depencier said the release was "potentially due to a valve that controls water flow from the pond to the river not being fully closed." The company confirmed the valve was completely closed on Oct. 9. 

She said Suncor company plans to "implement automated alarms to provide early awareness to changes in operating conditions."

Suncor and the AER have informed communities and stakeholders in the area, the regulator said, and Environment and Climate Change Canada has also been notified. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2023.

— By Rosa Saba in Toronto

Companies in this story: (TSX:SU)

The Canadian Press

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