Albertans could be on the hook for oilsands cleanup costs

Potential $15-billion liability unaccounted for

CALGARY, AB — Albertans could end up paying for costly oilsands cleanup, according to a report released today by the Pembina Institute.

Toxic Liability: How Albertans could end up paying for oilsands mine reclamation, outlines inadequacies in how the Government of Alberta calculates and collects the "damage deposit" from oilsands operators to cover oilsands mine reclamation.

The report shows that a conservative estimate to clean up the current land area disturbed by mining (more than 68,574 hectares) puts costs at up to $15 billion, but the Alberta's Environmental Protection Security Fund holds just $820 million.

"It's time to have an honest discussion about the economic risks and liabilities of oilsands development, instead of just focusing on the short-term economic benefits," said the report's lead author, Nathan Lemphers, a policy analyst for the Pembina Institute. "It's not acceptable that Alberta taxpayers could be left holding the bag for future oilsands mine cleanup."

Recent polling suggests the public agrees. A June 2010 Cambridge Strategies poll shows almost all Albertans (96 per cent) agree companies operating in the oilsands should be held responsible for all environmental damages caused by their operations.

And while the Government of Alberta is currently revising its Mine Financial Security Program, those revisions are happening behind closed doors with industry.

"We need a transparent and accountable program to collect reasonable securities to ensure Albertans aren't at economic risk," said Simon Dyer, oilsands program director for the Pembina Institute.

Pembina's report makes several key recommendations to tighten standards on oilsands mine cleanup, including:  

  • convening a public consultation on reclamation security deposits,
  • providing online access to reclamation security calculations,
  • requiring third-party verification of mine liability estimates,
  • expanding liability coverage,
  • creating a staged reclamation certification process, and
  • enhancing liability disclosure in company annual public financial reports.


Download: Toxic Liability Report
Download: Toxic Liability Fact Sheet


  • Nathan Lemphers — Policy Analyst, Oil Sands
    Phone: 403-269-3344 ext. 124
  • Simon Dyer — Director, Oil Sands
    Cell: 403-322-3937
    Phone: 403-721-3937