The decision was made after a thorough investigation and was based on expert advice provided by the University of Alberta’s Dr. Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a leading expert in North America on human-wildlife encounters and the deterrence methods used to mitigate that conflict.
Dr. St. Clair concluded that both Syncrude and Suncor could not have prevented the bird landings. She also determined that there were many factors leading to the incident where 551 birds were killed or euthanized after coming in contact with bitumen. The most significant factor was adverse weather conditions, including strong and variable winds, freezing rain and poor visibility. These factors forced migratory birds to land abruptly in large numbers in and around tailings ponds, as well as onto roadways and parking lots. To see the full report, please visit: http://environment.gov.ab.ca/info/library/8679.pdf
Based on the evidence gathered by provincial investigators and on St. Clair’s expert opinion, the Crown prosecutor has found that there is no reasonable expectation of conviction in this case.
The investigation has, however, led to discoveries that may change the approach taken to bird deterrence in Alberta. In her report, St. Clair suggests that the position of deterrents and artificial lights may have influenced where the birds landed. Industry practice for bird deterrence had not previously accounted for the influence of light during poor weather. This important new information has been shared with oil sands operators.
A number of other improvements have also been implemented since the incident, including radar-based deterrent systems and standardized regional monitoring protocols. Industry and the University of Alberta are working collaboratively to implement electronic, field-based data recording, develop new technologies for automating bird monitoring, and testing new methods for bird deterrence. These efforts, together with the court-ordered research project resulting from an April 2008 Syncrude incident that resulted in waterfowl deaths, will identify best practices for preventing bird landings on tailings ponds in the oil sands and lead to innovation for other industrial developments.
Editor’s note: Crown prosecutor Susan McRory and report author Dr. Colleen Cassady St.Clair are available for comment at 1:30 p.m. at South Petroleum Plaza, 12th floor, 9915 - 108 Street, Edmonton.
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