Issue Brief: Imperial Oil tailings leaks

February 15 Updates | March 11 Updates | March 13 Updates | April 11 Updates | Resources: Learn, Take Action, & Amplify

Latest Updates

Hearings on the Kearl spill before the House of Commons environment and sustainable development committee started with Indigenous communities testifying on April 17 followed by executives from Imperial Oil on April 20.

In the midst of the testimony before the environment and sustainable development committee, it was announced that there had been a release of water from Suncor's Fort Hills oil sands site.


Learn more about oil sands tailings, take action, and amplify the concerns around the Imperial Oil Kearl Project leaks.

February 15 Updates

On February 7, 2023, the Alberta Energy Regulator issued an Environmental Protection Order (EPO) to Imperial Oil in response to two "containment incidents" at Imperial's Kearl Oil Sands Project northeast of Fort McKay. The EPO details that the first incident, involving seepage of industrial wastewater from Kearl's tailings ponds, was originally reported in May 2022. This release was not made known to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), nor to the public at large, until the EPO was issued following the second incident on February 4, 2023 which involved the overflow of an estimated 5.3 million litres from an industrial wastewater storage pond. First Nations and environmental groups immediately expressed concern about the impacts to the environment, and about the long delay in making the initial leak known to the public.

March 11 Updates

On March 2, Chief Allan Adam of the ACFN released a statement expressing their disappointment and dismay over "the failures of the Imperial and the Alberta Energy Regulator to inform us about ongoing and uncontained leaks from the tailings facilities at the Kearl Project. The AER released a statement indicating that "Notices of noncompliance (as were issued to Imperial) are not enforcement decisions and therefore are not publicly posted" and that "Regulator notification procedures were followed in this case."

In addition to the delays in reporting the releases to First Nations, the Province of Alberta also failed to inform the Government of Canada and the Government of the N.W.T. as per agreements with those governments.

March 13 Updates

On March 13, 2023, Environment and Climate Change Canada released a statement regarding the Kearl releases, stating that "based on information enforcement officers have to date, the seep is believed to be deleterious, or harmful, to fish" and that a Fisheries Act direction had been issued to Imperial Oil requiring "immediate action to contain the seep and prevent it from entering a fish-bearing waterbody."

April 11 Updates

As additional information about the spill continued to trickle out, the Privacy commissioner announced an investigation into the actions of the AER, and the AER announced an investigation into itself by launching a third party investigation into the Kearl oilsands tailings leaks.

Meanwhile, indigenous communities were left to deal with the aftermath of the leaks, and to continue to seek answers.