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Can we use more water while saying we use less?

Our golf buddies told us we can use as much water as we want...

Water is an essential part of Suncor's operations. We know it is a precious resource that must be managed wisely, just not by us. That’s why we’re lobbying to weaken water laws in Alberta.  

When we say we’ve reduced water use by over 50%, we actually mean that our overall water use has increased (gotcha!). At Suncor, we believe a weaker law is a better law. And we invest in world-class PR to convince the public to agree with us. 

We’re working every day to directly release more polluted water into Lake Athabasca. If we’re successful in our lobbying, we might even get a free pass from pesky new regulations.


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Fighting for people over profits

Suncor's bad water practices.

The Athabasca is a river of international significance. Home to more than 30 species of fish, it provides water to one of the world's largest freshwater deltas, the Peace-Athabasca Delta, a vital wetland habitat and home to one of the most important waterfowl nesting and staging areas in North America.

But since 2000, industrial water withdrawals from the Athabasca River have doubled, and the flow of water in the river is at times dangerously low. Low flow causes river oxygen levels to plummet and reduces available habitat, putting fish and aquatic species at risk.

This, in addition to climate change and reduced glacial flow, will mean the Athabasca is going to see major drops in flow rates over the coming years, especially in winter months. For this reason, scientists, environmental experts, Indigenous communities and oil companies agreed that the Athabasca River needs an absolute cut off on industrial water withdrawals to protect critical river habitat.

But right now Suncor is lobbying, and the Alberta government is considering exempting Suncor from these regulations.

Suncor claims it takes water consumption seriously and says it has drastically lowered its overall water withdrawals. In reality, its water consumption continues to climb. In 2012, its water use increased by 20 percent over to the previous year according to records contained in the Oil Sands Information Portal. By 2017, consumption is expected to further increase by 47 percent based on aggressive expansion plans.

Tailings

The toxic byproducts of oil sands extraction, including sand, silt, unrecovered hydrocarbons and dissolved chemicals, are dumped into man-made lakes called tailings lakes where they remain indefinitely. They account for a huge percentage of a mine’s ecological footprint -- roughly 30-50%. For years, industry has maintained that toxic chemicals do not leach from tailing lakes, but a recent federal study found that 11 million litres a day is leaking into groundwater and the Athabasca River. And tests determined that Suncor’s tailings lakes contained residual bitumen and diluent which are toxic to the natural environment.

In 2009, ambitious new rules were unveiled by Alberta’s energy regulator to help manage growing volumes of toxic tailings waste from oil sands mining. Directive 74 was intended to demonstrate a commitment to environmental performance by requiring companies to capture and dry 50% of fine tailings particles. By 2013, however, Suncor had captured just 8.5%. In 2010, Suncor claimed it had successfully reclaimed a tailings pond. Instead, it had merely moved liquid tailings elsewhere.

Alberta currently has a zero discharge policy for all untreated industrial waste water in the oil sands. Under law, process affected water must be contained in ponds and dykes on site, or recycled back into mining processes. But if companies like Suncor get their way, they could be able to release process affected water -- the byproduct from oil sands development -- directly into the Lower Athabasca river.

This is not fair and not responsible. If Suncor truly is committed to being a leader in water sustainability, it must protect wild rivers and support absolute limits on water withdrawal and a ban on waste water dumping.

Tell Suncor’s CEO:

Protect the Athabasca River. Support absolute limits on water withdrawals and a ban on waste water dumping!

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Can we lower the bar on environmental performance?

We are committed to doing the most we can to preserve profits for generations to come

Everyday we ask ourselves, can we cover up our impacts, can we bury a discussion of climate change and can we keep dumping polluted water into rivers? Can we displace wildlife and destroy their habitats? We’re pushing everyday to do more -- that’s the Suncor promise. At Suncor, we’re deeply committed to Green….wash. We want to be leaders -- leaders in lobbying, in toxic tailings waste, and in corporate profits.

We believe that “environmental performance” means being able to pollute more than our competitors. And we’re resilient: hundreds of oily ducks and dozens of toxic leaks and environmental violations won’t get us down. Sure, pesky 'regulations' say that we're breaking the law by creating huge toxic tailings lakes and then refusing to comply with even basic clean up rules, but our PR says we're great!


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Fighting for people over profits

Suncor's shameful environmental record.

Suncor likes to think of itself as different, better than the other oil sands companies, more responsible, more sustainable and more environmentally friendly. But the truth is its practices are among the worst - on toxic leaks and environmental infractions, on water use, on climate impacts, and on lobbying to weaken already weak environmental regulations.

Suncor has been fined for failing to install pollution control equipment, for environmental violations at a wastewater facility, for failing to comply with the Water Act, and for providing false and misleading information to Alberta environment. A report from Global News found over 500 Suncor violations ranging from corrosion to valve and pipe failures.

A 2011 incident at a Suncor facility leaked tailings water so polluted that it failed 39 consecutive toxicity tests. Last year, waste from a Suncor operation poured into the Athabasca River for ten hoursdumping 350,000 litres of industrial waste water right into the river.

Suncor’s plans are also putting Woodland Caribou populations at risk, since oil sands development is clearing the old growth forest that they need to survive. The majority of Alberta's caribou herds now have low calf survival rates. Pressure from companies like Suncor is delaying government action on the issue, and using a wolf-cull as a scapegoat. According to lobbying records, Suncor is lobbying the Alberta government on environmental monitoring, species at risk, wetlands policy, tailings emissions, and even climate change.

If Suncor truly is committed to raising the bar in environmental performance, it needs to support new regulations that protect communities and wild rivers by including absolute limits to water withdrawals and not allowing waste water to be dumped in the Athabasca river.   

Tell Suncor’s CEO:

Raise the bar on environmental performance. Support absolute limits on water withdrawals and a ban on waste water dumping.

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Do you think local communities are onto us?

We did build a basketball court for them a while back…

Suncor is committed to “responsible” development. Part of our commitment includes listening closely to Aboriginal concerns about the impacts of industrial development on traditional lands, resources and communities -- and then disregarding them completely. 

Water too toxic to drink? No problem - we’ll just fly it in. Growing volumes of toxic waste? Nothing distracts like a shiny new curling rink

We don’t believe in informing communities about toxic spills in the Athabasca River -- we skip this step and pass the savings directly to our shareholders instead.


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Fighting for people over profits

Damaging downstream communities.

Downstream Aboriginal communities are being forever changed by oil sands development in Alberta. 

A full 80% of the traditional territories of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation are now inaccessible for part of the year because of oil sands projects. In a recent oil spill, Suncor failed to let the Fort McKay First Nation even know there was a spill happening in their territory while toxic water leaked into the Athabasca River for days. The nation has spent years trying to get information about exactly which chemicals were released.

Aboriginal people living downstream from the oil sands are experiencing a high incidence of rare and life-threatening cancers. People in the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation say their drinking water has been contaminated by Suncor’s operations. And Suncor has repeatedly been fined for environmental damages.

Despite the impacts of new draft water laws, First Nations have not been briefed on them. Suncor is also lobbying the Alberta government around its Aboriginal consultation framework -- a primary way that Aboriginal peoples are consulted about projects that affect their communities, culture and way of life.

If Suncor truly is committed to responsible development in downstream communities, it must support new regulations that protect communities by supporting absolute limits on water withdrawal and a ban on waste water dumping.

Tell Suncor’s CEO:

Protect downstream communities and First Nations. Support absolute limits on water withdrawals and a ban on waste water dumping.

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Can we say we're leaders in innovation without, you know, innovating?

We love the word innovation! We will just say we are leaders in that until someone calls us out

At Suncor, we love the word innovation. Innovation. We’re not really sure what it means, but it has a great ring, right? We’re constantly asking ourselves if we can make our employees feel good about what they’re doing without it costing us anything, and without changing our practices. 

We believe that if you set the bar low, you can always succeed beyond your goals. And if you set the bar lower still, every tiny step is a major breakthrough. 

At Suncor, we’re working around the clock to make our PR convincing enough so we can sleep again.


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Fighting for people over profits

Real innovation doesn't look like this.

Suncor says it is committed to innovation in its water management practices. But in reality, they refuse to upgrade their facilities to store water, a common industry practice to ensure good water management.

Science shows that allowing the Athabasca river to run dry would have devastating environmental impacts including destroying fish habitats in the river, reducing the availability of water for wildlife, affecting traditional transportation methods in the area, and altering groundwater flows.

Suncor maintains that constructing water storage systems would have a “net negative impact on the environment” because of land disturbance. But environmental consulting firms have proven otherwise. There are innovative and realistic options to improve Suncor’s water management and save vulnerable ecosystems in Lake Athabasca at the same time. In fact, just 1.5km2 is enough to store water and protect the Athabasca.

It is much riskier to continue withdrawing water than it is to construct water storage facilities. If Suncor truly is committed to being a leader in innovation, it must store water for long-term environmental benefit. 

 

Tell Suncor’s CEO:

Support absolute limits on water withdrawals and a ban on waste water dumping.

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Can we convince you we’re important to Canada's economic future?

We are still contributing to the economy even though we won't pay our taxes, right?

At Suncor, year-end bonuses are important to us. As the biggest company in the oil sands, our executive salaries are keeping stride with our growing environmental footprint: they're both on the rise. 

Last year, we made $4 billion in profits, our CEO earned nearly $13 million dollars and we paid out some pretty handsome bonuses. But when we didn’t feel like paying our taxes, we fought the Canada Revenue Agency and agreed to only pay half our taxes while we fought the bill. 

We think that Canadians will give up on green energy and renewable innovation if we are persistent enough in our greenwash. Our bottom line is that we can afford to do better, but won’t.


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Fighting for people over profits

We're looking out for number one.

Last year, Suncor made $4 billion in profits but when it faced a $1.2 billion dollar tax bill, it fought the bill instead of paying it. And instead of being a good corporate citizen, it is lobbying the federal government on tax laws.

Last year, Suncor CEO Steve Williams earned $12,839,320, and in recent years, year-end bonuses have significantly increased. In 2010, year-end bonuses nearly tripled CEO pay, and some officers made more in bonuses than in salary.

According to data from Bloomberg, the majority of oil sands production is not owned by Canadians, meaning most of the profits go to foreign companies, and not to Canadians. Suncor is 56.8% foreign-owned.

Tell Suncor’s CEO:

Support absolute limits on water withdrawals and a ban on waste water dumping.

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Fighting for people over profits

This is what yes is really doing.

Suncor is spending millions on a high profile public relations blitz to convince Canadians it cares about the environment. But we know Suncor is lobbying to get exempted from new water regulations to protect one of Canada's most important rivers. If wants to be able to take as much fresh water from the Athabasca River as it wants -- even when plant and animal life are at risk. And what's more, it could be able to dump toxic tailings water - untreated - right into the Athabasca River. 

The Athabasca River is essential to hundreds of species of birds, animals and fish that rely on those ecosystems to survive. If water level falls too low, animals, fish and wildlife die, and drinking water, farming, and traditional transportation routes will be put at risk.

Suncor thinks a masasive PR campaign will distract us from their shameful behaviour, but we won't let them. The stakes are too high. The Alberta government's draft regulations are weeks from being released, giving us an urgent opportunity now to call on Suncor to do the right thing before its too late. 

Sign the petition to Suncor Energy.

Suncor: Support absolute limits on water withdrawals and a ban on waste water dumping.