Two years, ago, 30 great blue herons were discovered dead in a pond near Syncrude Canada’s mine north of Fort McMurray. In August of 2015, the company reported the discovery of the birds. They were found at different stages of decomposition suggesting they had passed away at different times. Another was discovered covered in oil just two days later. It was euthanized. Unfortunately, Syncrude had not put any deterrents in place to prevent wildlife from entering the inactive sump pond.

After the discovery, the company has gone on to install fences, statues and sound cannons to scare away birds and other wild animals. For the 31 birds found dead, it was too late. For Syncrude, the preventative measures were take too late and now, Albert’s energy watchdog wants to punish them for their neglect. On Thursday, the energy watchdog confirmed it had charged Syncrude with a single count under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

The crime? Failing to store a hazardous substance in a way that avoids contaminating animals. The consortium is now operated by Suncor Energy. If convicted on the offense, Suncor could face a stiff penalty of a maximum $500,000. Company representatives are scheduled to appear in court for the first time on September the 27th.

Syncrude spokesman Will Gibson spoke about the charge. “We must review the charges in detail before we decide how we will proceed.” As for Greenpeace, the group welcomed the charge, but they felt it wasn’t enough. Instead, they suggested that the province should increase fines and “take action on the toxic waste water and tailings ponds that are growing by the minute.”

In a statement, the group explained that a “fine that can be paid off by a few hours’ profit doesn’t send much of a signal to the company or the industry”. The 31 dead herons were not the only fatalities at the oil sands. Simultaneously, Syncrude ran into similar problems in 2008. Them, the company was fined $3 million after more than 1,600 ducks met their demise at one of the company’s tailings ponds.

A few years later, 550 more birds were killed when a storm forced them to land in waste ponds owned by Suncor and Syncrude. On July the 26th, Suncor reported a net profit of $435 million for the second quarter of 2017. During the 2nd quarter of 2016, the company reported a loss of $735 million. At the time, forest fires led to a loss in production. How the recent charges will impact revenues remains to be seen.

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