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ST. ALBERT, Alberta Fri Jun 25, 2010 4:24pm EDT

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ST. ALBERT, Alberta (Reuters) - An Alberta judge found Syncrude Canada Ltd, the biggest producer in Canada's oil sands, guilty on Friday on charges stemming from the deaths of 1,600 ducks that landed on a toxic northern Alberta tailings pond in 2008.

Syncrude faces a maximum fine of C$500,000 ($481,000) for on federal charge and C$300,000 for a province of Alberta charge in the case, which heightened international concern about the environmental impact of developing Canada's vast oil sands, the largest crude oil source outside the Middle East.

Syncrude was supposed to have deterrents in place that would keep the ducks from landing on its tailing pond. However those were not in place. Alberta Provincial Court Judge Ken Tjosvold also noted that Syncrude had cut back its deterrents and staffing for bird protection.

"Syncrude did not deploy the deterrents early enough or quickly enough," the judge said.

The ducks were killed in April 2008, when a snowstorm delayed deployment of bird-deterring sound cannons at Syncrude's tailings pond.

The judge will decide on August 20 whether to convict the company on both charges or just one and will deliver his sentence then.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Jones, writing by Scott Haggett; editing by Peter Galloway)

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