The Fort Chipewyan Working Group was established to bring government and representatives of the community together following the unauthorized releases from the Kearl oil sands mine.
This group will provide a forum for sharing information on government activities in response to the releases and will ensure community perspectives are reflected in government plans for additional monitoring in areas downstream of the Kearl Oil Sands Project site. They will focus on keeping drinking water safe and secure for communities.
Safe and secure drinking water for all Albertans is a top priority and we are committed to working with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Indigenous communities to ensure the continued safety of their drinking water supply.
Who is listening
Ministry of Environment and Protected Areas
Working group mandate
The Fort Chipewyan Working Group will:
- discuss additional environmental monitoring and drinking water testing in the Fort Chipewyan area
- ensure input, advice and guidance from community representatives are reflected in government plans for additional monitoring in areas downstream of the Kearl oil sands site
Working group members
- Government of Alberta
- Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
- Mikisew Cree First Nation
- Fort Chipewyan Metis Nation
- Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
- Alberta Energy Regulator
- Indigenous Services Canada
- Environment and Climate Change Canada
Government is conducting independent monitoring in high priority areas to provide an additional level of assurance in response to concerns voiced by communities near the Kearl oil sands site.
The monitoring, which is in addition to the significant environmental monitoring already in place for the oil sands region, will help to assess if there are ambient impacts to water quality, drinking water or fish and wildlife.
This is additional monitoring and does not replace other monitoring already in place for the oil sands region or specific monitoring actions performed by Imperial Oil as required in the Alberta Energy Regulator's environmental protection order.
This spring, the Alberta government is planning high frequency monitoring of up to 4 times per week during the spring melt near the Kearl oil sands operation and along the Firebag River to assure communities that environmental conditions are well understood.
Learn more about the actions and progress of Imperial Oil and the Alberta Energy Regulator regarding the Kearl incidents:
Water testing results
Water quality results from the additional Kearl monitoring conducted by the Alberta government in March 2023 are compiled and published below and also available on the Oil Sands Monitoring Program (OSMP) website. Data will continue to be added as it is received.
- Enhanced water monitoring - March samples (as of April 19) (XLSX, 630 KB)
- Map of completed monitoring in March (PDF, 344 KB)
See below for a summary of results.
Waterbody 3 (last updated April 20, 2023)
Waterbody 3 is a shallow, open-water wetland on the eastern edge of Imperial’s Kearl lease.
April 20, 2023
In addition to the results posted on April 4, further results indicate that dissolved iron concentrations exceeded the environmental quality guideline for Alberta surface waters at both sampling locations in Waterbody 3 (PDF, 1.4 MB). Iron can be found in waterways because of natural runoff and other geologic sources.
April 4, 2023
Based on lab results from the Alberta government’s independent sampling, we agree with the Alberta Energy Regulator's findings that process-affected water may have entered Waterbody 3.
Data from samples taken on March 15 from Waterbody 3 shows that F2 hydrocarbon concentrations collected near to the tailings dyke exceed the Alberta Protection for Aquatic Life guidelines (AEP PAL) and the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Environmental quality guidelines (CCME CEQGs) acute (short-term) guideline for the protection of aquatic life. The sample from the outlet of Waterbody 3 was below guideline values and were below our detection limit of 100 micrograms per litre from initial results. Naphthenic acids were detected at elevated concentrations.
- Waterbody 3 dataset – March 15 sampling (XLSX, 168 KB)
- Waterbody 3 map (PDF, 1.4 MB)
To date, there is no evidence that the presence of process-affected water in waterbody 3 has affected municipal drinking water sources located more than 200 kilometres downstream in Lake Athabasca.
Firebag River (last updated April 20, 2023)
Naphthenic Acids were detected in all the Firebag River sites, but at much lower concentrations (average: 27 micrograms per liter) compared to levels found in Waterbody 3. Within the Firebag River, concentrations increased from upstream to downstream. This spatial pattern may reflect the fact that the Firebag River flows through the bitumen-bearing McMurray Formation. Natural river erosion of the McMurray Formation may be an important source of naphthenic acids to regional rivers and streams. No guidelines exist for naphthenic acids.
An exceedance of dissolved iron based on environmental quality guidelines for Alberta surface waters was also identified in a sample taken from an unnamed tributary to the Firebag River north of the Kearl site. Water samples collected from Firebag River both upstream and downstream of the Kearl site exceeded dissolved iron guidelines from one of the labs but not the other, we are also investigating this difference in results from independent labs.
Pyrene concentrations that exceeded the protection of aquatic life guideline were found in one laboratory result from a water sample collected from the Firebag River upstream of the Kearl site. Pyrene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon that forms from incomplete combustion or organic materials (wood, coal, fossil fuels, etc.) and is commonly present following forest fires. Pyrene was measured by 2 different labs. Similar to the dissolved iron exceedances noted above, the lab results from 2 different labs did not agree for this parameter, necessitating further investigation.
Athabasca River (last updated April 20, 2023)
One of the laboratory results from a water sample collected from the Athabasca River upstream of Fort McMurray indicated pyrene concentrations that exceeded the protection of aquatic life guideline. Similar to the pyrene concentrations noted in the Firebag River above, the lab results from 2 different labs did not agree for this parameter, necessitating further investigation.
The sampling location is upstream of the Kearl site and not related to the Kearl incident.
Lake Athabasca (last updated March 11, 2023)
Lab results from sampling in early March show all drinking water related parameters were below laboratory detection limits or within acceptable ranges. This means water taken directly from Lake Athabasca, based on the chemistry measured on these samples, meets the quality required by Health Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
Samples were analyzed for 575 different compound measurements, including metals, organics, nutrients and hydrocarbons.
The Alberta government continues to re-sample and analyze water testing results. Information will be shared with the nearby communities to the Kearl incident and to the public as they become available.
- Lake Athabasca water testing results - Innotech (PDF, 356 KB)
- Lake Athabasca water testing results - ALS (PDF, 1.4 MB)
- Lake Athabasca water testing results - Bureau Veritas (PDF, 1.2 MB)
For questions about this data, email: [email protected].
Oil sands monitoring program
The Oil Sands Monitoring Program studies and examines the impacts of oil sands development on air, water, wetlands, wildlife health and biodiversity in the Athabasca, Cold Lake and Peace areas that make up the oil sands region.
It is one of the largest environmental monitoring programs in the world and is delivered jointly between the Alberta government and Environment and Climate Change Canada. The Oil Sands Monitoring Program is funded by industry, not taxpayers, with oil sands operators contributing up to $50 million annually.
On February 6, 2023, the Alberta Energy Regulator issued an Environmental Protection Order to Imperial Oil in response to 2 separate wastewater release incidents at the Kearl Oil Sands Project:
- Incident 1 – industrial wastewater seeping from the external tailings area in 4 locations on and outside the boundaries of the Kearl sites.
- Incident 2 – an uncontrolled release of industrial wastewater from an overflow drainage pond.
The operator, Imperial Oil, and the Alberta Energy Regulator were responsible for the initial response to the incidents, including incident-specific monitoring requirements.
Last updated: April 21, 2023