Demand Cleanup of Toxic Waste From Oil Sand Mining

Target: Catherine McKenna, Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Goal: Clean up and contain over one trillion liters of toxic waste currently being held in open, unlined ponds in Alberta.

An estimated 2.5 million barrels of oil are extracted every day from the oil sands of Alberta. This extraction process is inefficient and produces huge amounts of toxic sludge. Horrifically, this toxic sludge is leaking out of holding ponds at a rate of millions of liters per day, contaminating ground water, harming river ecosystems, and threatening human health.

Burning all of the fossil fuel extracted from the oil sands will obviously have a massive environmental impact. But even the process needed to obtain usable oil from the oil sands has detrimental effects. For every hectare mined for oil, 3,600 tons of CO2 emissions are generated. However, the toxic byproducts of oil sand mining are probably the most worrying. These byproducts, called tailings, may contain cyanide, arsenic, lead, and cadmium, among other toxins. The tailings are dumped into massive, unlined ponds. These ponds now contain enough toxic muck to fill 400,000 Olympic swimming pools. And this toxic waste will only continue to accumulate. Despite Canada’s goal to decrease carbon emissions by 30% by 2030, the government of Alberta plans to increase oil extraction to 4 million barrels per day within the next ten years.

The open tailings ponds are a threat to wildlife, especially migratory birds. As many as five thousand birds may be killed each year when they land in tailings ponds. Furthermore, studies have conservatively estimated that the tailings ponds are leaking at least 11 million liters per day. This leakage is be contaminating ground water and nearby rivers. Indeed, studies have shown that rivers downstream from oil sand mining sites have levels of lead and mercury that are dangerous for aquatic life. These toxins have disastrous effects on river ecosystems, but also on human health. Indigenous peoples living in Fort Chipewyan, over 100 miles downstream of oil sands mining sites, experience an unusually high rate of cancer, which seems to be linked to eating fish from the contaminated river.

Sign this petition to demand a reduction of tailings production and immediate action to be taken on the cleanup of tailings ponds.


Dear Ms. McKenna,

The government’s attempts to hold mining companies accountable for the cleanup of toxic tailings ponds has been disturbingly weak. In 2009, the Alberta government released a directive calling for a 20% reduction of fluid tailings waste within the next two years, followed by increased reductions in the following years. Mining companies utterly failed to comply, but instead of enforcing these regulations, the government quietly suspended the directive in 2015.

Recently, the Alberta Energy Regulator approved mining giant Suncor’s plan to clean up toxic tailings. This plan has been widely criticized as “unambitious,” and would give Suncor 70 years after their mine closes to clean up the tailings ponds. Environmentalists have stated that this timeline is much too long and have expressed disappointment in the Alberta government for approving such a plan.

We ask that you and your colleagues at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change do all that you can to impose stricter regulations for the production and cleanup of toxic waste produced by oil sand mining.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Dru Oja Jay

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  1. Gen Lovyet Agustsson says:

    plant more trees not destroy them. clean up now!


  3. Patricia Dumais says:

    Just wait and see – the taxpayers will be left footing the bill because politicians are on the side of the polluters.

  4. Greedy people, need to go away. Live in harmony with nature and all beings, not cause pain and suffering.

  5. Public wake up! Stop voting useless parties and incompetent politicians! It is up to you!

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