Dene Nation calls for Imperial charges as dead frogs found near Kearl

The Dene Nation is calling for charges to be laid against Imperial Oil following a spill and a leak reported at the company’s Kearl oil sands mine earlier this year.

In a press release on Monday, Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine said the Dene Nation was “extremely disappointed” that Canada and Alberta had not halted operations at the site and taken further action.

In February, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) issued an environmental protection order against Imperial over seepage from a tailings pond at its Kearl site, north of Fort McMurray, that had been ongoing since May 2022. Many downstream communities only learned of the leak after another major spill at the same mine.


The House of Commons’ environment committee held a series of hearings related to the incidents last month.

“It is disappointing that not only are our treaty lands, waters, birds, animals and families being poisoned by tar sand developments in Alberta, but we practically have to beg to be engaged by industry and the governments of Alberta and Canada,” Antoine stated.

Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine at the Vatican
Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine at the Vatican. Fred Cattroll/Assembly of First Nations

He added that Dene had to ask to be present at the federal hearings when they should have been invited as downstream peoples. He said the United Nations special rapporteur on Indigenous rights, José Francisco Calí Tzay, had to lobby internationally on the Dene people’s behalf.

Antoine said he appreciated Calí Tzay’s comments last month, at a United Nations forum on Indigenous issues, where Calí Tzay said regulators and Exxon-Mobil – which owns 69.6 percent of Imperial’s shares – implement “human rights due diligence procedures” to identify and address impacts on the human rights of Indigenous peoples.

Dead wood frogs

In one House of Commons hearing, Imperial chief executive Brad Corson said the company’s monitoring had shown no impact on drinking water sources or wildlife.


Testing conducted by the AER in April found hydrocarbons and petroleum-derived compounds in a small fish-bearing lake located largely within Imperial’s lease.

Last week, the federal government opened an investigation into possible breaches of the Fisheries Act at Kearl.

In the latest development, on Friday, Imperial Oil reported finding “up to 10 deceased wood frogs” near a waterbody north of its Kearl lease, according to an AER notice obtained by Cabin Radio.

The waterbody is located roughly 250 metres north of the company’s lease and has no inlet or outlet, the notice states. It is not home to fish.


Fencing is being installed in the area, the AER states. The dead frogs have also been collected for further assessment and more water sampling is under way.

In its notice, the AER said its staff will continue to monitor the situation.

This article is produced under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0 licence through the Wilfrid Laurier University Climate Change Journalism Fellowship.