New research from Environment Canada appears to confirm what environmental groups have long been claiming: Alberta’s oilsands are polluting groundwater in the region. The aim of the study was to “identify chemical components that could distinguish chemical mixtures in oilsands process-affected water (OSPW) that had potentially migrated to groundwater in the oilsands development area of northern Alberta, Canada.” It used new technology to find a clear differentiation between chemicals from naturally occurring bitumen deposits and those found in tailings ponds.

In an email to CTV, Environment Canada spokesman Danny Kingsberry said, “This study does not provide proof that the oilsands process water may be reaching the Athabasca River at the sites examined. Techniques are being further developed and applied to a wider range of shallow groundwater locations in the area to repeat these results and to further assess regional tailings pond/groundwater interactions.”

But some environmentalists disagreed with Kingsberry’s assessment.

“Well, it looks like what they’ve seen is that in fact the tailings ponds are leaking,” Bill Donahue, environmental scientist with the oilsands advisory committee, told the CBC. “They found also not only are those tailing ponds leaking, but it looks like it is flowing pretty much from those tailings ponds, through the ground and into the Athabasca River. So there goes…that message we’ve been told about ‘These tailings ponds are safe, they don’t leak’ and so on.”

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