03/12/2015 02:46 EDT | Updated 05/12/2015 05:59 EDT

65 Alberta Dams To Be Inspected For Integrity

Most of the mines used by the coal industry have not been inspected since the 1980s or 1990s.

Philip and Karen Smith via Getty Images
Businessman talks on mobile phone, dam spillway

EDMONTON - The Alberta Energy Regulator says it will inspect the structural integrity and review the safety records of 65 dams used by the oilsands and coal industries in the province.

The announcement follows criticism by the auditor general that the provincial government is failing to properly regulate Alberta's network of dams and tailings ponds.

The 65 dams are used to contain industrial waste and the regulator says 32 are classified as posing either "extreme" or "very high" environmental consequences if they were to fail.

CEO Jim Ellis said the regulator will apply the same safety standards to these dams that are used on oil and natural gas pipelines in order to ensure the safe, environmentally responsible development of energy resources.

"The auditor general has recognized the AER's pipeline regulation performance, and Albertans can be confident that we will apply that same rigour to all AER-regulated dams," he said.

The regulator took responsibility for regulating energy industry dams from Alberta's Environment Department last year.

Of the 65 dams, 40 are related to the oilsands industry and 25 are related to coal mining.

The inspections and review of past safety records are to begin in May and wrap up by October, with the results to be made public.

A list of oilsands industry dams that pose either "extreme" or "very high" consequences if they were to fail indicates there is no annual performance report or safety review for Syncrude's Mildred Lake dam.

All of the other dams on the list indicate they have been reviewed or reported on in the last three years, except for two that are still in the design stage.

A similar list of the coal mine dams was not immediately available.

Two of the coal mine dams are classified as posing a "high" consequence if they were to fail, including the Cheviot mine and the Obed mine, both near Hinton, Bob Curran, a spokesman with the regulator said Thursday.

In October 2013 an estimated 670 million litres of waste water gushed out of the earthen dam at the Obed operation, some of it ending up in the Athabasca River.

Environment Canada has said the spill contained damaging compounds such as arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead and manganese.

The cause of the breach is still being investigated by the regulator and the federal government. No decision has been made on whether the owner of the mine at the time, Sherritt International, will face charges.

In his report released Thursday auditor general Merwan Saher said the Obed mine site in 2013 was not registered as a dam even though it met the requirements.

He said most of the mines used by the coal industry have not been inspected since the 1980s or 1990s and there are no safety reviews on file for 22 of the structures.

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