Canada's Suncor releases 5,900 cubic metres of water from oil sands site

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: The Suncor Energy logo is seen at their head office in Calgary

By Nia Williams

(Reuters) -Canada's Suncor Energy has reported the release of 5,900 cubic metres (208,400 cubic feet) of water with more than twice the approved level of suspended solids from a sedimentation pond at its Fort Hills oil sands project in northern Alberta.

The release on April 16 was reported to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) because the total suspended solids, in this case mud, in the water exceeded the approved limits, Suncor said.

The water came from a sedimentation pond, which collects and discharges surface run-off from the oil sands site, and not a tailings pond, Suncor spokesperson Erin Rees said in an email.

Oil sands companies are under scrutiny for how they manage water on their sites, after Imperial Oil said in February that tailings ponds at its Kearl site had been seeping for months and another spill released 5,300 cubic metres of process water in late January. Tailings are a toxic mixture of water and waste products from bitumen mining.

"This is not a tailings pond, but a water run-off pond that collects and discharges run off into Fort Creek ... in line with regulatory approvals," Rees said.

The water discharges into Fort Creek roughly 800 metres upstream of the Athabasca River, the main waterway running through the oil sands region.

The AER said Suncor is working to understand why the release into the Athabasca exceeded the approved regulatory limit for total suspended solids, and has taken water quality samples for analysis.

"Suncor have contacted indigenous communities in the area and we have followed-up with our own communication," the AER said in an email.

(Reporting by Nia Williams in British Columbia; Editing by Richard Chang, David Gregorio and Chris Reese)