Spill or No Spill?
That is the question for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, but it’s not clear if there’s going to be a satisfactory answer
Tim Querengesser is senior editor with Alberta Venture. He once snowmobiled to the Arctic Ocean to interview a guy in elf shoes about reindeer. Really. Peace Pipe is his critical look at the intersection between Indigenous peoples and industry. Email Tim
by Tim Querengesser
On Saturday, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation published several pictures from the Athabasca River of the tell-tale squiggled, silvery lines that occur when oil meets water. The First Nation’s chief (and one of our 50 Most Influential Albertans this year), Allan Adam, described this in a news release as a “toxic” spill along the Athabasca, and claimed it was some 100 kilometres long. But the Alberta government, having sent a helicopter along the length of the alleged spill and having asked industry to double-check whether there had been any petrochemical discharges in the area, has reported that no spill took place.
So, who’s right?
“We had regional responders [inspect] the length of the Athabasca River from Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan,” a provincial spokesperson told the CBC. “They found no obvious source of hydrocarbon leaks. [The province also] asked major industry in the area to check their facilities to ensure that there’d been no spills or leaks. Industry completed a thorough check of the facilities – no sources were found.”
Chief Adam has openly questioned that conclusion, however. “Our members appear to be the only world class monitoring system Alberta has,” he told CBC. Though made far more subtly, the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, an American think-tank, made a similar point recently about the problematic lack of top-shelf water monitoring in the province during a study of the various rivers that make up the Mackenzie River watershed (many of which are in Alberta and flow north). (To read the complete report, go here.)
While there is no damning evidence to support Adams’ assertions, the oily sheen on the Athabasca and his belief about its source comes at an interesting time. The aftermath and government reaction to a spill in June of 9.5 million litres of hydrocarbon-laden water near Zama City has seen the accusations that spills are intentionally downplayed ratcheted up a degree or two. Environmental NGO Greenpeace has gone so far to ask whether the government of Premier Alison Redford “covered up” the spill, which has been documented by local Dene groups.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.