EDMONTON — The Alberta Energy Regulator says it's looking for an investigator to dig into a release of oilsands tailings water that wasn't made public for nine months.
In a statement released Tuesday, the regulator said it's seeking a "qualified, impartial, third-party body" to consider how it notified First Nations, governments and other stakeholders about two releases at Imperial Oil's Kearl oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta.
Although Imperial notified the agency in May of discoloured water near one of the tailings ponds, area First Nations were not kept apprised of the ongoing investigation. Nor were the federal, Alberta and Northwest Territories governments.
The seepage wasn't reported until nine months later after another 5.3 million litres of tailings escaped from a containment pond.
"I have been in regular contact with (the regulator's) CEO Laurie Pushor, and he assures me he welcomes this third-party review both as an opportunity for an independent recounting of the facts surrounding the (agency’s) response and as an opportunity for (it) to learn and grow as applicable," said the regulator's chairman, David Goldie, in a release.
The decision for the investigation was made March 16 and was released Tuesday, almost two weeks later.
The regulator said the inquiry will consider issues around notification and the timing of notification to Indigenous communities and other stakeholders. It will also consider "other potential process issues."
The inquiry's report is to be made public, the regulator said. However, it has not released any timeline around the hiring of an investigator or how long that work might take.
"The board will have no further comment until it has reviewed the final findings," the regulator said.
It would be the second official probe into what happened around the Kearl releases.
The House of Commons environment and sustainable development committee has invited the head of Imperial as well as the regulator to a meeting. The committee also hopes to hear from Environment Canada, the N.W.T. and seven area First Nations.
No date has been set for that meeting.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press