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Judge fines Syncrude $3.2M over duck deaths

Judge fines Syncrude $3.2M over duck deaths 3712428/story.html#ixzz13IqmH000 

Darcy Henton, Postmedia News -- Friday, Oct. 22, 2010

ST. ALBERT, Alta. -- An Alberta judge has accepted a $3.2-million creative sentence for Syncrude Canada Ltd. on charges stemming from the deaths of more than 1,600 ducks on one of its oil sands waste ponds two years ago.

The oil company must pay an $800,000 fine by Nov. 1 under the sentence, which will also promote avian research, wildlife monitoring and habitat conservation.

The sentence proposal -- which was two months in the making -- was submitted in St. Albert provincial court as lawyers for the oil sands giant apologized for the company's failure to prevent the death of the waterfowl on April 28, 2008, at Syncrude's 12-kilometre settling basin, north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

The had made international headlines, as photos of oil-drenched ducks fuelled opposition to oil sands development and calls for bans on synthetic crude.
Syncrude lawyer Ron Kruhlak said the oil company accepts the responsibility for the incident and believes the penalty is reasonable.

'It was Syncrude's obligation to ensure it had a program in place to protect waterfowl,' he said.

Federal and provincial Crown prosecutors told provincial court Judge Ken Tjosvold the creative-sentencing program will direct $1.3-million to an avian-research bird-deterrent program, $250,000 to wildlife-monitoring training at Fort McMurray's Keyano College and $900,000 for the purchase of 1,500 acres of waterfowl habitat near North Cooking Lake, east of Edmonton.

Syncrude could have faced fines of up to $500,000 under provincial legislation and $300,000 under federal legislation, as well as a maximum jail term of six months.

Federal Crown lawyer Kent Brown said he didn't intend to seek a jail sentence for company executives, but earlier suggested after Syncrude's June 25 conviction that he could ask for the maximum fine for each one of the 1,600 birds that perished.

At a trial that stretched more than eight weeks, prosecutors argued Syncrude failed to prevent birds from landing on the Aurora tailing pond because it didn't put out bird-deterrent canons and effigies in advance of the spring migration -- even though company employees warned that ducks had started to arrive.

Syncrude argued pointed out that the region had been hit by the second heaviest snowfall in 60 years. It claimed its employees could not have been reasonably expected to deploy duck deterrents around the toxic-tailings basin.

The judge found in June that Syncrude's bird-deterrent team was understaffed and ill-equipped to place the cannons around and on the settling basin. Other oil sands companies had bird-deterrent systems operating even before Syncrude called in its seasonal bird and ecology team.

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