NWT says Ottawa, Alberta commit to improvements over spills

Shane Thompson in the NWT legislature on February 28, 2022.

The NWT’s environment minister says he has “commitments” from his federal and Alberta counterparts over better communication after recent oil sands spills.

Shane Thompson has previously complained that the territory was left uninformed over spills like months-long seepage at Imperial Oil’s Kearl site.

Various Northwest Territories communities consider themselves directly at risk from the downstream effects of oil sands contamination.

On Thursday, Thompson said he had met with federal environment minister Stephen Guilbeault and Alberta equivalent Sonya Savage.



In a lengthy statement, Thompson said there had been “failures to communicate appropriately with affected Indigenous communities” and with the GNWT, and said both Guilbeault and Savage had “made commitments to address our government’s concerns and have agreed to improving lines of communication going forward.”

“The failures of these past months cannot happen again,” Thompson concluded, “and they must be fully investigated and corrected.”

A federal investigation has now begun into the Kearl seepage.

Environment and Climate Change Canada says it is investigating that months-long leak, and a separate spill earlier this year, as a contravention of the Fisheries Act.



While an Alberta regulator was informed by Imperial Oil at the time of the initial leak, communities downstream were not notified for months.

Guilbeault said on Thursday he was working with the NWT and Alberta to improve processes.

“The situation right now is untenable,” Guilbeault told reporters in Ottawa. “We can’t continue going on this way, which is why we’re proposing to change the way we do things.”

Imperial Oil says it is cooperating with the investigation.