Richard & Liz Bergeron

Calgary’s Real Estate Specialists

Richard's Cell: 403-819-2331 | Liz's Cell: 403-875-8470


A quartet of spills in northern Alberta has been oozing bitumen emulsion for more than a year with no sign of stopping, and the provincial regulator’s latest report finds the oil company’s own extraction method could be partly to blame.

A massive tailings pond breach sends a wall of potentially toxic mine waste flooding through central British Columbia.

Which garners more outrage?

The second one – by a long shot.

Mount Polley mine‘s tailings pond breach in B.C. has sparked a state of emergency as residents’ tap water is deemed unusable and provincial authorities scramble to determine just how toxic the spilled wastewater is, where the sludge went and what’s in the suspended solids.

Mine owner Imperial Metals has seen its share prices tank about 40 per centin the days following the breach.

Canadian Natural Resources Limited, on the other hand, has been barely bruised by the months-long series of spills at its Cold Lake site, even after an Alberta Energy Regulator report concluded the company’s high-pressure steaming is just too much for the rock, causing it to fracture and leak bitumen.

That conclusion’s a big deal, said Dinara Millington, vice-president of research with the Canadian Energy Research Institute: It suggests the operation itself is unsound, and has implications beyond these four spills, or even CNRL’s operations in that area.

“The regulator has been called by the public and Pembina Institute and other environmental institutes to  undertake a study where they would be looking at [cyclical steam stimulation] in general, and whether it’s even appropriate in a place where CNRL is,” she said.

“It will set a huge precedent for anyone who wants to get into that area.”

But shareholders don’t seem concerned: CNRL’s share price sits at about $44 now, compared to $31 a year ago.

And the public outcry in the days following B.C.’s tailings spill so far exceeds any outrage connected to Alberta’s ongoing bitumen spills.

Calgary billionaire Murray Edwards is Imperial’s controlling shareholder, as well as CNRL’s chairman and founder.

Why the divergent responses?

From a shareholder perspective, it could be a simple evaluation of risk, Millington said.

“CNRL, as a company, has large reserves, large assets large capital invested into various projects …  they could, for example, if the regulator says to walk away from the [Cold Lake] project, they have options.”

The sharply different reaction for Imperial Metals, she said, “Is directly related back to the concept of social licence: whether the company has that social licence, whether they’ve been able to obtain it and retain it. … You need to continue with what you said you were going to do, which is being the environmental steward of the land that you’re occupying. “

And the intimation from both the B.C. government and former employees that there were problems with the tailings site that should have been addressed earlier likely doesn’t inspire confidence, she said.

The tailings breach also has a more immediate and more visible human impact than the months of bitumen seeping from what is, effectively, a weapons range that’s a fair distance from even more remote First Nations communities.

But that just makes its effects more insidious, she said.

“We don’t know what the long-lasting impact can be – the emulsion can be seeping into the underground water resources or reaching small lakes and rivers and streams.”


He’s one of Canada’s most prominent billionaires – co-owner of the Calgary Flames, chairman and creator of oilsands giant Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and head of Penn West and other sundry energy companies. According to Forbes, he’s worth about $2.2 billion (but told the National Post last year he doesn’t keep track).

He chairs Ensign Energy (and paid, along with other insiders, a total of $4.37 million as a reimbursement to settle concerns around stock option irregularities earlier this year); he owns Resorts of the Canadian Rockies and chairs Magellan Aerospace.

Forbes called him “the most important billionaire in Canada” two years ago, shortly after the Globe and Mail reported he’d advised Prime Minister Stephen Harper on how to deal with ownership bids by state-owned foreign (read: Chinese) companies for Canadian resource companies.

Murray Edwards is also the controlling shareholder of Imperial Metals, whose Mount Polley mine tailings pond failed catastrophically in the early hours of Monday morning, releasing a wall of sludge and wastewater whose full impact on the people and wildlife of British Columbia’s Cariboo Region have yet to be fully felt.

READ MORE: What five million cubic metres of tailings looks like

Edwards hasn’t spoken on the spill and hasn’t returned calls from Global News requesting an interview this week.

(We feel less slighted knowing that, several years ago, he tried to flee an interview when he found himself alone unexpectedly with a reporter)

Edwards owns 36% of Imperial Metals, whose share price has tanked since Monday’s breach – down 44% by Tuesday, by noon Thursday it was sitting at about $9.55 , compared to more than $16 a week ago.

It isn’t clear what the massive tailings breach will mean for Imperial Metals, which has multiple other mines in B.C. and elsewhere, including Red Chris, which has yet to begin production.

Mount Polley was Imperials’ first mine and, as chairman Pierre Lebel told the Vancouver Sun earlier this year, it almost didn’t materialize when partner Gibraltar pulled out.

“Don’t even think about” abandoning the project, Lebel recalls Edwards saying. “We can do this on our own.”

Lebel described Edwards as a “very engaged partner” on Red Chris – someone who is “all about making things happen.”

“It always amazes me the depth of Murray’s understanding and his ability to retain details and names and events of the past,” Lebel told the Sun. “He engages people as he goes along. People really respond well to him.”

READ MORE: A closer look at Imperial Metals

Recent court cases have established a precedent for a company’s directors being held responsible for environmental misdemeanours: The Ontario government has argued directors of a now-insolvent company were responsible for cleanup at a contaminated site.

But the Canadian Energy Research Institute’s Dinara Millington thinks it’s unlikely the Mount Polley breach will hurt Edwards directly.

“Him personally beign held responsible, I don’t think so. But what might happen is you might see if he’s feeling pressure … he might be selling off shares,” she said.

“There could be pressure – internally or externally … to get him to rethink what companies to invest in.”

READ MORE: BC orders mine to plug toxic tailings release

Last year, Edwards was awarded the International Horatio Alger Award, given to someone “who has persevered through adversity to become a successful entrepreneur or community leader.”

“There isn’t a Canadian more deserving of this award than Murray Edwards – a man of extraordinary business achievement and a dedicated philanthropist,” Dominic D’Alessandro, President of the Horatio Alger Association of Canada, said in a statement at the time. “Murray’s story showcases that hard work pays off.”

An alumnus of the University of Saskatchewan (which named a business school after him) and the University of Toronto, Regina-born Edwards told the Post he grew up in a “spectacularly unspectacular middle-class family.”

“Anybody can do a deal,” he said at the time. “The tough part is doing the deal at the right time, being strategic.”

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