Ontario Syncrude, the largest operator of oil sands projects in Canada, was ordered to pay $2.92 million on October 22 for causing the deaths of 1,603 ducks.

The company was convicted in June by an Alberta court for failing to deploy scarecrows and loud cannons in April 2008 to prevent the migratory birds from landing on a tailings pond containing oily residue from one of its operations.

The company said that bad weather had delayed its annual efforts to deter the birds. But evidence at the trial showed that Syncrude had been reducing the number of people and the amount of equipment it devoted to keeping birds from its tailings ponds.

Syncrude's penalty is higher than prescribed under federal and provincial law. It was developed through negotiations under a system known as “creative sentencing,” which is found in a few Canadian provinces, including Alberta.

About $1.95 million of the total will go to various environmental and wildlife projects.

“We've learned a lot from the incident,” said Cheryl Robb, a spokeswoman for the company. “It's haunted us.”

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Some environmental groups, however, found the penalty insufficient.

Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace, said the fine was “no more than a slap on the wrist” considering the size of Syncrude, which is owned by several oil and gas companies. He acknowledged, however, that Syncrude had now been forced to improve its bird deterrence and monitoring.

In a statement, the Sierra Club of Canada said that the two governments should also have ordered an end to the use of ponds to hold waste from the oil sands. — © New York Times News Service

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