What are tailing ponds?

Companies use hot water to separate very heavy oil (bitumen) from the sticky sand. This water is then sent to a tailings pond – often a discontinued mine pit. The tailings are a mixture of water, clay, sand and residual bitumen. Tailings ponds allow the water to be recycled in the mining operation.


Tar sands operations require the use of vast quantities of water, which become contaminated and must be stored in huge tailing ponds. This both depletes local water reserves and threatens to pollute the environment and nearby communities.

What are the dangers of tailing ponds?

Two serious environmental problems ensue. The water leaches out metals and other dangerous elements that were formerly trapped underground in a reducing (non-oxidizing) environment; acidic wastes amplify the leaching. And though usually stable, some dams have burst during flood stages, unleashing a torrent of toxic materials and posing a combined hazard of mudflow and flooding.


The Athabasca river flows from the Columbia ice fields of Jasper National Park and down into Lake Athabasca for a total of 1,232 kilometers. Currently there are about five oil sands projects and up to about 20 more in progress take water out of it every year for projects. Millions of litres every year are already taken for the use of the oil sands projects and are never put back because it is too toxic once they are done with it.

Note the close proximity to the Athabasca River which feeds into the lake meaning that if they were to leak the pollutants would directly lead into many water sheds and affect hundreds of thousands of species.


What is the effect of tailing ponds on birds?