Suncor Oil Spills Into St. Lawrence River

Thirty-Five Barrels of Oil Leak From East Montreal Refinery

Lights from the Suncor refinery are reflected in floating pools of diesel.  Photo Riley Sparks
Photo Riley Sparks
Photo Riley Sparks

Thousands of litres of oil spilled into the St. Lawrence River from the Suncor-Petro Canada refinery at Marien Avenue and Notre Dame Street on Sept. 28, but the source of the leak remains unknown.

The oil company, along with Environment Canada, was able to recover 30 of the 35 barrels, leaving five in the river. According to Environment Canada, there will be no lasting damage to the St. Lawrence’s wildlife.

“[On Sept. 30], I went on a boat to look at the shorelines in the Ste-Thérèse Islands,” said Frederic Gauthier, Senior Emergency Officer at Environment Canada. “I was able to see a sheen in some parts, but it is a very light sheen on the surface; the quantities are very low.”

A small amount of oil continues to trickle into the river.

“All the [oil] transfers [through] the pipes have been stopped,” said Gauthier. “What is going into the St. Lawrence right now is a small quantity of oil leaking from the ground, but [Suncor] is able to control it.”

The Montreal Fire Department was notified around 9:00 p.m. on Sept. 28 after local residents contacted them about a strong chemical smell. Suncor is undertaking an investigation to determine where the leak emanated from, but as of yet the company has provided no definitive answers.

“Oil leaks are not a matter of if, but when,” said Cameron Fenton, who works for activist group Climate Justice Montreal. “Whatever the reason [for the leak], be it human error, mechanical failure, or lack of upkeep, the only way that fossil fuel spills can be avoided is by stopping the extraction of the product; stopping the refinement and moving our energy production and consumption beyond fossil fuel dependency.”

The real concern for Climate Justice Montreal, however, is Suncor’s plan to bring tar sands bitumen to be refined in Montreal. The effect of 35 barrels of light diesel oil in the river pales in comparison to spilling the same amount of tar sands oil.

“Suncor is one of the oldest companies that have been involved in tar sands extractions and continuing operations,” said Fenton. “Any company ready to willfully poison eco-communities, all along the Mackenzie and the Delta River basin, […] is obviously willing to mortgage human health for profit.”

Jet boating company, Saute Mountons, was not affected by the oil spill, since their main commerce area is situated upstream from the spill. Had they been downstream from the spill, things would have been different.

Andrew Soltysik, Saute Moutons General Manager, said, “Many people take their drinking water from the St Lawrence. If people can’t drink the water, then I don’t think they’ll be too concerned about not jet boating on the rapids.”

The leak happened two days after Suncor announced its first successful recovery of an oil sands tailings pond, a billion dollar project aimed at restoring the environmental damage caused by tar sands oil extraction.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 08, published October 5, 2010.