* Volume and toxicity of water not yet known
* Company has not been asked to shut down operations
By Scott Haggett
CALGARY, Alberta, March 26 Contaminated water
may have spilled into the Athabasca River from a broken pipe at
Suncor Energy Inc's oil sands project in northern
Alberta, sparking new fears about pollution of the river from
the huge oil sands developments on its banks.
The Athabasca is the main source of drinking water for
aboriginal and other communities downstream and has been the
subject of several controversial reports on its water quality.
The province of Alberta's environment department said it
does not yet know whether the water that spilled from a holding
pond contained toxic materials.
Samples from the pond are being sent for analysis and it
will take at least a day before results are returned.
Environment department staff have been at the project site north
of Fort McMurray, Alberta, since early on Monday.
Suncor said it does not anticipate any impact to the
"We are analyzing samples of the pond and the river as part
of the investigation," said Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal.
Wayne Wood, a spokesman for provincial Environment Minister
Diana McQueen, said the volume of water sent into the river has
not yet been determined.
"We're on the ground monitoring the situation," Wood said.
"The pipe got turned off relatively fast."
Suncor, Canada's No. 1 oil producer, and other oil sands
companies store contaminated water, a byproduct of stripping
tar-like bitumen from the sands, in holding ponds.
Those ponds became the focus of environmental protests in
2008, when 1,600 ducks died after landing on a tailings pond
operated by Syncrude Canada Ltd.
While new regulations introduced after the mass duck deaths
aim to eliminate the toxic ponds, they remain controversial
because of the risk of spills into the Athabasca River.
"No one in Alberta should have to be worried about the
safety of their drinking supply but that's exactly the situation
we have," Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner for
Greenpeace Canada, said in a statement.
Suncor said the industrial waste water from its oil sands
extraction and upgrading operations escaped on Monday morning
after a four-inch pipe broke after freezing, spilling the water
into a partially frozen outflow pond containing treated water.
"Some process-affected water flowed out of the partially
frozen pond and into an approved discharge point. It was diluted
with water intended for release and then flowed into the river,"
the company said on Tuesday. ()
Suncor's Seetal said the company's oil sands project was
operating normally despite the spill.
Suncor shares closed flat at C$30.73 on Tuesday on the
Toronto Stock Exchange.