Jennifer Grant/Pembina Institute
A mine in the Alberta oil sands. The tailing ponds from these mines are leaking water into the Athabasca River, a new Canadian study says.

Large Dams of Mining Waste Leaking Into Athabasca River: Study

Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee

Polluted groundwater contains more dicarboxylic acids than naphthenic acids, while natural groundwaters in the region hold less dicarboxylic acids than naphthenic acids.

Given that groundwater pathways are highly variable, "there may not be sufficient numbers of existing monitoring wells to actually identify the presence or sources of contamination," adds Donahue.

"For this reason, the number and location of groundwater wells needs to be reconsidered, and more wells will be needed in areas where groundwater flow is highly variable and complex."

Although the numbers of sites and samples used in the study are small, "it certainly represents a promising advance in the ability to fingerprint and detect contamination from oil sands tailings ponds in groundwater in the Lower Athabasca River basin," says Donahue.

In 2012, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was warned that federal scientists found "potentially harmful mining related contaminants" outside of one dam in an earlier study.

The problem of how to dispose of polluted mining waste has existed for a long time.

A 1973 report by the Alberta government on the "Athabasca Tar Sands" identified the growth of tailing ponds as a major public liability, describing the "large open bodies of polluted water" as "the most disturbing aspect of mining in tar sands from an ecological as well as an aesthetic point of view."


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