New oilsands testing uncovers higher levels of air pollution

EDMONTON – Warnings about higher levels of air pollution in the oilsands have emerged in a new provincial air quality report that calls for further investigation into possible pollution sources.

The report shows polluting emissions in 2012 did not surpass the legal limit set out in the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan. (Just two substances, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, were measured). But air pollution rose to levels two and three on a scale of four at several monitoring sites, mostly between Fort McMurray and Fort McKay.

Level four is the legal limit set to protect human health and allow for economic growth.

“It’s important to understand the triggers are well below the (legal limit), so we are not anywhere near an issue where will have health issues for humans or our biodiversity,” Environment Minister Robin Campbell said Wednesday.

Campbell said he’s pleased with the report, and the warnings it contains give plenty of time to consult with industry and local municipalities.

The legislation requires the government to take action when warning levels are triggered. His department is now trying to pinpoint the pollution sources.

“The system is working, the triggers are in place and we’ve been proactive in … working with the industry,” Campbell said.

Identifying sources will help determine if companies will be asked to take steps to reduce pollution, according to reports obtained by the Journal.

“I don’t look on this as having to penalize them, but rather work with them to come up with a solution for responsible use of resources,” Campbell said.

The 2012 air pollution data are 18 months old, but it is the first test of province’s new regional approach — to monitor pollution arising from all oilsands projects together, called cumulative effects.

The worst pollution occurred near two large upgraders, the report shows. Sulphur dioxide emissions hit level three at two stations, a level below the legal limit set by the Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives (AAAQO).

Five other sites recorded sulphur dioxide at level two above the clean air norm, according to 2012 data.

“There should be no or very few exceedances of the hourly AAAQO at the trigger for level three,” says the report, called Status of Air Quality Management Response.

So far, the environment department’s investigation has concluded no natural events such as forest fires contributed to the level three pollution, the report said.

Increased oilsands production would not necessarily mean more pollution because new technology is cleaning up emissions, Campbell said.

But the Alberta Energy Regulator must keep an eye on pollution levels when approving new projects, he said.

If a new project would increase pollution to hit the legal limit, it could be delayed or modified, or new technology could be required.

The province devised the new monitoring system after the oilsands came under fire for poor environmental performance and after scientific studies in 2010 showed pollution was not naturally occurring, as the province had maintained for years.

Massive oilsands upgraders are the source of 90 per cent of sulphur dioxide emissions, and the big trucks and fleets of buses also contribute.

Sulphur dioxide emissions may have gone down since 2012; last year Syncrude installed scrubbers to take sulphur out of emissions that go up the big stack, department officials noted.

Updated figures for 2013 pollution levels are expected in December, according to department officials.

Nitrogen dioxide emissions also hit level two at five monitoring stations, and near Fort McMurray were high during the morning and evening rush hours.

Environmentalists raised a red flag about growing air pollution in the region at 2013 hearings on the proposed Jackpine mine expansion.

Forecasts showed the huge project could take sulphur dioxide pollution over the legal limits. That project is awaiting approval.

While the Athabasca regional plan was approved in September 2012, major sections are still incomplete, including the biodiversity framework that would protect wildlife. Those limits will be ready in 2015.

The province’s legal air quality threshold follows the AAAQO, which “is intended to provide protection of the environment and human health to the extent that is technically and economically feasible, and is socially and politically acceptable,” according to the air quality framework.

spratt@edmontonjournal.com

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

New oilsands testing uncovers higher levels of air pollution

EDMONTON – Warnings about higher levels of air pollution in the oilsands have emerged in a new provincial air quality report that calls for further investigation into possible pollution sources.

The report shows polluting emissions in 2012 did not surpass the legal limit set out in the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan. (Just two substances, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, were measured). But air pollution rose to levels two and three on a scale of four at several monitoring sites, mostly between Fort McMurray and Fort McKay.

Level four is the legal limit set to protect human health and allow for economic growth.

“It’s important to understand the triggers are well below the (legal limit), so we are not anywhere near an issue where will have health issues for humans or our biodiversity,” Environment Minister Robin Campbell said Wednesday.

Campbell said he’s pleased with the report, and the warnings it contains give plenty of time to consult with industry and local municipalities.

The legislation requires the government to take action when warning levels are triggered. His department is now trying to pinpoint the pollution sources.

“The system is working, the triggers are in place and we’ve been proactive in … working with the industry,” Campbell said.

Identifying sources will help determine if companies will be asked to take steps to reduce pollution, according to reports obtained by the Journal.

“I don’t look on this as having to penalize them, but rather work with them to come up with a solution for responsible use of resources,” Campbell said.

The 2012 air pollution data are 18 months old, but it is the first test of province’s new regional approach — to monitor pollution arising from all oilsands projects together, called cumulative effects.

The worst pollution occurred near two large upgraders, the report shows. Sulphur dioxide emissions hit level three at two stations, a level below the legal limit set by the Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives (AAAQO).

Five other sites recorded sulphur dioxide at level two above the clean air norm, according to 2012 data.

“There should be no or very few exceedances of the hourly AAAQO at the trigger for level three,” says the report, called Status of Air Quality Management Response.

So far, the environment department’s investigation has concluded no natural events such as forest fires contributed to the level three pollution, the report said.

Increased oilsands production would not necessarily mean more pollution because new technology is cleaning up emissions, Campbell said.

But the Alberta Energy Regulator must keep an eye on pollution levels when approving new projects, he said.

If a new project would increase pollution to hit the legal limit, it could be delayed or modified, or new technology could be required.

The province devised the new monitoring system after the oilsands came under fire for poor environmental performance and after scientific studies in 2010 showed pollution was not naturally occurring, as the province had maintained for years.

Massive oilsands upgraders are the source of 90 per cent of sulphur dioxide emissions, and the big trucks and fleets of buses also contribute.

Sulphur dioxide emissions may have gone down since 2012; last year Syncrude installed scrubbers to take sulphur out of emissions that go up the big stack, department officials noted.

Updated figures for 2013 pollution levels are expected in December, according to department officials.

Nitrogen dioxide emissions also hit level two at five monitoring stations, and near Fort McMurray were high during the morning and evening rush hours.

Environmentalists raised a red flag about growing air pollution in the region at 2013 hearings on the proposed Jackpine mine expansion.

Forecasts showed the huge project could take sulphur dioxide pollution over the legal limits. That project is awaiting approval.

While the Athabasca regional plan was approved in September 2012, major sections are still incomplete, including the biodiversity framework that would protect wildlife. Those limits will be ready in 2015.

The province’s legal air quality threshold follows the AAAQO, which “is intended to provide protection of the environment and human health to the extent that is technically and economically feasible, and is socially and politically acceptable,” according to the air quality framework.

spratt@edmontonjournal.com

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

New oilsands testing uncovers higher levels of air pollution

EDMONTON – Warnings about higher levels of air pollution in the oilsands have emerged in a new provincial air quality report that calls for further investigation into possible pollution sources.

The report shows polluting emissions in 2012 did not surpass the legal limit set out in the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan. (Just two substances, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, were measured). But air pollution rose to levels two and three on a scale of four at several monitoring sites, mostly between Fort McMurray and Fort McKay.

Level four is the legal limit set to protect human health and allow for economic growth.

“It’s important to understand the triggers are well below the (legal limit), so we are not anywhere near an issue where will have health issues for humans or our biodiversity,” Environment Minister Robin Campbell said Wednesday.

Campbell said he’s pleased with the report, and the warnings it contains give plenty of time to consult with industry and local municipalities.

The legislation requires the government to take action when warning levels are triggered. His department is now trying to pinpoint the pollution sources.

“The system is working, the triggers are in place and we’ve been proactive in … working with the industry,” Campbell said.

Identifying sources will help determine if companies will be asked to take steps to reduce pollution, according to reports obtained by the Journal.

“I don’t look on this as having to penalize them, but rather work with them to come up with a solution for responsible use of resources,” Campbell said.

The 2012 air pollution data are 18 months old, but it is the first test of province’s new regional approach — to monitor pollution arising from all oilsands projects together, called cumulative effects.

The worst pollution occurred near two large upgraders, the report shows. Sulphur dioxide emissions hit level three at two stations, a level below the legal limit set by the Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives (AAAQO).

Five other sites recorded sulphur dioxide at level two above the clean air norm, according to 2012 data.

“There should be no or very few exceedances of the hourly AAAQO at the trigger for level three,” says the report, called Status of Air Quality Management Response.

So far, the environment department’s investigation has concluded no natural events such as forest fires contributed to the level three pollution, the report said.

Increased oilsands production would not necessarily mean more pollution because new technology is cleaning up emissions, Campbell said.

But the Alberta Energy Regulator must keep an eye on pollution levels when approving new projects, he said.

If a new project would increase pollution to hit the legal limit, it could be delayed or modified, or new technology could be required.

The province devised the new monitoring system after the oilsands came under fire for poor environmental performance and after scientific studies in 2010 showed pollution was not naturally occurring, as the province had maintained for years.

Massive oilsands upgraders are the source of 90 per cent of sulphur dioxide emissions, and the big trucks and fleets of buses also contribute.

Sulphur dioxide emissions may have gone down since 2012; last year Syncrude installed scrubbers to take sulphur out of emissions that go up the big stack, department officials noted.

Updated figures for 2013 pollution levels are expected in December, according to department officials.

Nitrogen dioxide emissions also hit level two at five monitoring stations, and near Fort McMurray were high during the morning and evening rush hours.

Environmentalists raised a red flag about growing air pollution in the region at 2013 hearings on the proposed Jackpine mine expansion.

Forecasts showed the huge project could take sulphur dioxide pollution over the legal limits. That project is awaiting approval.

While the Athabasca regional plan was approved in September 2012, major sections are still incomplete, including the biodiversity framework that would protect wildlife. Those limits will be ready in 2015.

The province’s legal air quality threshold follows the AAAQO, which “is intended to provide protection of the environment and human health to the extent that is technically and economically feasible, and is socially and politically acceptable,” according to the air quality framework.

spratt@edmontonjournal.com

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Burnaby critical of Kinder Morgan’s confidential emergency plan

The City of Burnaby is throwing its support behind the provincial government’s push to make Kinder Morgan’s emergency management plan public.

The energy company, which is proposing to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline and the tank storage facility in Burnaby, wants to keep the plan confidential because it contains proprietary information, but that doesn’t sit well with Mayor Derek Corrigan.

“We know that Kinder Morgan does not have the capacity to deal with potential spills and fires, and we are determined to ensure that they are not permitted to hide from the public the inadequacy of their plans,” he said in a press release. “By denying access to the emergency management documents, Kinder Morgan is increasing the risk to the citizens of Burnaby and emergency personnel.”

The local fire department has been one of the company’s most vocal critics when it comes to safety, claiming the company is not prepared to handle a major fire at the tank farm. Now the provincial government has chimed in, arguing to the National Energy Board that Kinder Morgan’s plans should not be confidential.

“It is unclear to the province how emergency response procedures, including the location of facilities and response equipment, or response time maps, could possibly contain information of a proprietary nature,” the province stated in documents filed with the NEB.

When asked why the plan was proprietary, Kinder Morgan spokesperson Ali Hounsell explained that there is information – phone numbers and locations of equipment – that isn’t meant to be shared publicly. However, the city, fire department and province all have a copy of the plan, she added, and there’s a public summary available online.

“We have an emergency response plan in place today, audited (and) shared with local responders. We are required to file a detailed response plan for the new pipeline before operation, and we will do that,” she said.

The NEB’s Whitney Punchak said the board will review intervenors’ comments and make a decision on the issue “at a later date.”

*Story updated with Kinder Morgan and NEB’s response.

© Burnaby Now

City launches constitutional challenge

Pipeline company wants access to Burnaby Mountain

The City of Burnaby is launching a constitutional challenge with the National Energy Board in the legal battle over Burnaby Mountain, while Kinder Morgan is arguing it has the right to work on the land, based on federal law.

The city’s lawyer, Gregory McDade, is calling for a fair hearing on the issue.

“The idea that in the 21st century that the federal government can just bulldoze through a community deserves some debate,” he told the NOW.

Kinder Morgan wants to survey Burnaby Mountain for a proposed route for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but the city, which is opposed to the project, has not yet granted the company permission to do so. Kinder Morgan has two outstanding applications filed with the city, which is waiting on more information before making its decision.

Much of Burnaby Mountain is city-owned land and a designated conservation area.

In late July, Kinder Morgan sent a letter to the NEB, arguing it had the right to work on Burnaby Mountain, according to the National Energy Board Act.

The city’s main counter-argument, filed last week, is the act should not override local jurisdiction and bylaws.

“The constitutional question is: Can the company just pick any place they want and get (access) automatically or do they need to comply with municipal rules and bylaws,” McDade said. “This isn’t just a property issue. Where they are trying to build a helicopter pad and do drilling is in a conservation area – that would contravene municipal bylaws. … This is designated parkland; it needs to go to a referendum.”

Kinder Morgan’s response, issued on Friday, is that the city “mischaracterized or misunderstood” the company’s request. Kinder Morgan did not apply to the NEB to force the city to allow the company’s survey work to begin; it simply asked for an interpretation of existing law.

According to National Energy Board spokesperson Sarah Kiley, there is no plan yet on how to deal with the city’s challenge.

“We haven’t made any kind of decision or announced how we are going to proceed with that challenge. It’s very much wait and see, and the board will make its decision public,” she said. “All options are on the table.”

McDade said he hopes the board takes the issue seriously.

“The NEB hasn’t shown, so far, much of an open mind to the public interest. In terms of confidence, we may have to look to another court beyond them,” he said.

Government of Canada has failed to effectively enforce subsection 36(3) of the Canadian Fisheries Act

On 29 July 2014, the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) issued a notification in regard to submission SEM-10-002 (Alberta Tailings Ponds), recommending to the Council of the CEC that a factual record is warranted. Specifically, the Secretariat recommends development of a factual record with regard to assertions that Canada is failing to effectively enforce subsection 36(3) of the federal Fisheries Act, in relation to alleged leakage of deleterious substances from oil sands tailings ponds into fish-bearing waters in northern Alberta.

The Secretariat is now authorized to make this notification public.

The submission was filed in 2010 by one nongovernmental organization in the United States, one in Canada, and three individuals in Canada.

The Secretariat will develop a factual record if two or more members of the Council—the CEC’s governing body, composed of the highest-ranking environmental officials of Canada, Mexico, and the United States—so decide by 27 October 2014.

Articles 14 and 15 of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) allow the CEC Secretariat to consider a submission from members of the public and non-governmental organizations concerning the effective enforcement of environmental law by a NAAEC Party (Canada, Mexico, or the US). The CEC has published Guidelines for Submissions on Enforcement Matters explaining the steps in the process.

For further information, please visit the CEC Submissions on Enforcement Matters website atwww.cec.org/submissions, and the registry of submission SEM-10-002 (Alberta Tailings Ponds).

__________________

Press release August 7, 2014 – Government of Canada has failed to effectively enforce subsection 36(3) of the Canadian Fisheries Act with respect to the leaking of deleterious substances from oil sands tailings.

Background and History

North American Agreement On Environmental Cooperation Is a environmental side agreement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between United States, Canada and Mexico signed in 1994/95.

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)

The Council is the CEC’s governing body and is composed of the highest-level environmental authorities (cabinet level or equivalent) from Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

The Council oversees the implementation of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) and serves as a forum for the discussion of environmental matters within the scope of the Agreement

Articles 14 and 15 of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) allow the CEC Secretariat to consider a submission from members of the public and non-governmental organizations concerning the effective enforcement of environmental law by a NAAEC Party (Canada, Mexico, or the US).

Submission to the CEC Secretariat Alberta Tar Sands Tailing Ponds

Montreal, 7 August 2014— On 29 July 2014, the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) issued a notification in regard to submission SEM-10-002 (Alberta Tailings Ponds), recommending to the Council of the CEC that a factual record is warranted. Specifically, the Secretariat recommends development of a factual record with regard to assertions that Canada is failing to effectively enforce subsection 36(3) of the federal Fisheries Act, in relation to alleged leakage of deleterious substances from oil sands tailings ponds into fish-bearing waters in northern Alberta.

The submission was filed in 2010 by one nongovernmental organization in the United States, one in Canada, and three individuals in Canada.

The Secretariat will develop a factual record if two or more members of the Council—the CEC’s governing body, composed of the highest-ranking environmental officials of Canada, Mexico, and the United States—so decide by 27 October 2014.

For further information, please visit the CEC Submissions on Enforcement Matters website atwww.cec.org/submissions, and the registry of submission SEM-10-002 (Alberta Tailings Ponds).

Summary of the Submission – highly recommended you read the full submission
http://www.cec.org/Storage/94/9169_10-2-RSUB-PUBLIC_en.pdf

SUBMISSION TO THE COMMISSION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION

Pursuant to Article 14, NORTH AMERICAN AGREEMENT ON ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION September 28, 2010

THE SUBMITTING ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS

Matt Price, Policy Director, Environmental Defence Canada
Toronto, ON M5V 1P9 Canada mjprice@environmentaldefence.ca

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Senior Attorney,Natural Resources Defense Council
Washington, DC 20005, sclefkowitz@nrdc.org

John Rigney [Contact details confidential]

Don Deranger [Contact details confidential]
Daniel T’seleie [Contact details confidential]

I. SUMMARY OF SUBMISSION

This submission requests that the Commission on Environmental Cooperation prepare a factual record regarding the allegation that the Government of Canada has failed to effectively enforce subsection 36(3) of the Canadian Fisheries Act with respect to the leaking of deleterious substances from oil sands tailings ponds into surface waters and the groundwater of Northeast Alberta.

Oil sands tailings ponds result from the extraction of bitumen from mined oil sands
deposits in Northern Alberta. The tailings ponds currently have a surface area of 130
square kilometers (50 square miles), with a volume of 720 billion litres (190 billion
gallons).

Tailings ponds contain a large variety of substances that are deleterious to fish, including naphthenic acids, ammonia, benzene, cyanide, oil and grease, phenols, toluene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, copper and iron.

Tailings ponds are constructed from the earthen materials that oil sands companies mine from the area. They are not lined and therefore leak contaminated substances into the environment. Companies attempt to recapture the leakage, but do not recapture it all.

There are documented cases of contaminated tailings substances reaching or projected to
reach surface waters in Jackpine Creek (from Shell), Beaver Creek (from Syncrude),
McLean Creek (from Suncor) and the Athabasca River (from Suncor).

With regards to the groundwater, one study used industry data to estimate that the tailings ponds already leak four billion litres (1 billion gallons) each year, with projections that this figure could reach over 25 billion litres (6.6 billion gallons) within a decade should proposed projects go ahead. This contamination can migrate to reach surface waters due to a hydrogeological setting that is punctuated by downcutting glacial and post-glacial meltwater channels and modern stream courses.

Subsection 36(3) of the Canadian federal Fisheries Act establishes a general prohibition on the deposition of deleterious substances into waters frequented by fish.

The Canadian federal government is on record several years ago with concerns regarding contaminated tailings leakage in the area, and has been present at environmental assessment hearings when companies have projected surface water contamination and water quality degradation.

The Canadian government has neither prosecuted any company for documented surface water contamination, nor has it pursued regulation governing tailings pond leakage. It relies on the Government of Alberta to alert it to possible violations of the Fisheries Act, and Alberta in turn relies on industry self-reporting. An industry-funded regional water monitoring body that Canada relies on – the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program – has been discredited as scientifically inadequate and for failing to identify significant water pollution in the region.

II. SUBSECTION 36(3) OF THE FISHERIES ACT

A. Subsection 36(3) of the Fisheries Act

Subsection 36(3) of the Canadian federal Fisheries Act deals with pollution prevention, and establishes a general prohibition on the deposition of “deleterious substances” into waters frequented by fish.

Response to the above submission by the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation

http://www.cec.org/Storage/158/18751_10-2-ADV_en.pdf

Mine spill leaves legacy of uncertainty for Christy Clark

It’s going to take a long time to clean up the Mount Polley mine spill and maybe even longer for the affected area to heal from the trauma.

But the blame game from the Aug. 4 disaster? That could be the most epic saga of all.

Who dealt this mess? What impact will it have on the B.C. mining sector? And what does it mean for Christy Clark’s gung-ho agenda for mining, natural gas and other resource extraction?

Critics are already pointing fingers at provincial cutbacks, saying the governing Liberals drastically cut the number of mine safety inspections.

In 2001, the year the Liberals took office, there were 2,025 mine inspections conducted by government regulators. By 2012, the number had been slashed by more than half, to just 875 inspections.

Compounding those numbers is the fact there are more mines now than there were before. There were 15 major mines operating in the province in 2001, compared to 18 today.

The government said most of those cancelled inspections were for less-risky sites such as gravel pits. But the opposition NDP still pounced on the numbers.

“The provincial government clearly has a lot to answer for,” said NDP mines critic Norm Macdonald. “The walls of a tailings pond are structures that should never fail. It’s like a bridge or building collapsing. And the government is ultimately responsible.”

While the New Democrats target the government, at least one former employee of the mine is blowing the whistle on his ex-bosses, saying he worried that too much waste water was being pumped too quickly into the pond.

Gerald MacBurney, a seven-year employee, says he wanted mine operator Imperial Metals to strengthen the earthen banks of the pond with tonnes of additional rock.

“They needed to put in five million tonnes around the dam,” he said. “I was just sick. You just know this was going to happen.”

But mines minister Bill Bennett said MacBurney’s opinion was not shared by the experts in charge.

“He’s an unhappy former employee,” Bennett told me. “I have to listen to the engineers and the biologists and the geo-technical experts. It’s their advice that I have to follow. And the advice I received was that the company was doing everything that they were supposed to be doing.

“We will find out if they weren’t.”

Some critics are already demanding an independent inquiry to get at the truth.

“He (MacBurney) needs to give his testimony,” said Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria.

Sandborn said the reductions in mine inspections are reflected in the glaring lack of penalties for mining infractions.

“Between 2006 and 2010, there were only six Environment Ministry penalties against mines,” Sandborn said. “Five of those six penalties were less than $600. This is not a deterrent to ensure that people are in compliance.”

How will the government get at the truth? Premier Christy Clark has promised a vigorous investigation — but not a public inquiry.

“I don’t know that a long, drawn-out public inquiry is going to be the best way to get those answers,” Clark said.

There is a lot on the line here for Clark. She promised in last year’s election to rapidly expand the province’s resource economy.

To deliver on her vision, she must prove to the public that the expansion can be done safely. That will mean a thorough investigation of the Mount Polley spill — and an assurance that taxpayers won’t be burned by cleanup costs.

Clark, meanwhile, faces the additional challenge of reassuring dubious First Nations, who can block her plans with court challenges and land claims.

The first step for Clark: participating in a First Nations healing ceremony at the site of the spill, shortly before the government released early test results showing the water in Quesnel Lake was safe.

But that was quickly challenged, too.

“Those are very preliminary tests,” Sandborn said. “Those water tests are from a few spots. All you have to do is look at the aerial photographs. We’ve got a major disaster here.”

However preliminary, the encouraging water tests still gave Clark’s government some hope as a wild week came to an end.

“We may have dodged a bullet,” Bennett said, though the NDP made clear the political battle over this one was only just beginning.

twitter.com/MikeSmythNews

msmyth@theprovince.com

© Copyright (c) The Province

Topographic Amplification Effects – Ridges

Author
Susan E. Hough,
Localized damage caused by topographic amplification during the 2010 M7.0 Haiti Earthquake

Local geological conditions, including both near-surface sedimentary layers 1, 2, 3, 4 and topographic features 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, are known to significantly influence ground motions caused by earthquakes. Microzonation maps use local geological conditions to characterize seismic hazard, but commonly incorporate the effect of only sedimentary layers 10, 11, 12. Microzonation does not take into account local topography, because significant topographic amplification is assumed to be rare. Here we show that, although the extent of structural damage in the 2010 Haiti earthquake was primarily due to poor construction, topographic amplification contributed significantly to damage in the district of Petionville, south of central Port-au-Prince. A large number of substantial, relatively well-built structures situated along a foothill ridge in this district sustained serious damage or collapse. Using recordings of aftershocks, we calculate the ground motion response at two seismic stations along the topographic ridge and at two stations in the adjacent valley. Ground motions on the ridge are amplified relative to both sites in the valley and a hard-rock reference site, and thus cannot be explained by sediment-induced amplification. Instead, the amplitude and predominant frequencies of ground motion indicate the amplification of seismic waves by a narrow, steep ridge. We suggest that microzonation maps can potentially be significantly improved by incorporation of topographic effects.

Author information

Singh, S. K. et al. Some aspects of source characteristics of the 19 September 1985 Michoacan earthquake and ground motion amplification in and near Mexico City from strong motion data. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 78, 451–477 (1988).

Hough, S. E. et al. Sediment-induced amplification and the collapse of the Nimitz freeway. Nature 344, 853–855 (1990). Article Su, F. et al. The relation between site amplification factor and surficial geology in central California. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 82, 580–602 (1992).

Joyner, W. B. Strong motion from surface waves in deep sedimentary basins. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 90, S95–S112 (2000). Article Hartzell, S. H., Carver, D. L. & King, K. W. Initial investigation of site and topographic effects at Robinwood Ridge, California. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 84, 1336–1349 (1994).

Spudich, P., Hellweg, M. & Lee, W. H. K. Directional topographic site response at Tarzana observed in aftershocks of the 1994 Northridge, California earthquake: Implications for mainshock motions. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 86, S193–S208 (1996).

Bouchon, M., Schultz, C. A. & Toksoz, M. N. Effect of three-dimensional topography on seismic motion. J. Geophys. Res. 101, 5835–5846 (1996). Article Assimaki, D., Gazetas, G. & Kausel, E. Effects of local soil conditions and topographic aggravation of seismic motion: Parametric investigation and recorded field evidence from the 1999 Athens earthquake. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 95, 1059–1089 (2005).

Lee, S. J., Chan, Y. C., Komatitsch, D., Huang, B. S. & Tromp, J. Effects of realistic surface topography on seismic ground motion in the Yangminshan region of Taiwan based on the spectral-element method and LiDAR DTM. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 99, 681–693 (2009). Article Allen, T. I. & Wald, D. J. On the use of high-resolution topographic data as a proxy for seismic site conditions (Vs30). Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 99, 935–943 (2009).

Yong, A., Hough, S. E., Abrams, M. J. & Wills, C. J. Preliminary results for a semi-automated quantification of site effects using geomorphometry and ASTER satellite data for Mozambique, Pakistan, and Turkey. J. Earth Syst. Sci. 117, 797–808 (2009). Article Wills, C. J. et al. A site-conditions map for California based on geology and shear-wave velocity. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 90, S187–S208 (2000).

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqinthenews/2010/us2010rja6/ (last accessed 10 May 2010). Lambert, M. L, Gaudin, J. & Cohen, R. Carte Geologique D’Haiti, Feuille Sud-Est: Port-au-Prince, 1 :250,000, IMAGEO-CNRS (1987).

http://www.dlr.de/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-6213/10205_read-22076/ (last accessed 31 August 2010).

Sanchez-Sesma, F. J. Diffraction of elastic SH waves by wedges. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 75, 1435–1446 (1985). Aki, K. Local site effects on weak and strong ground motion. Tectonophysics 218, 93–111 (1993). Article Iwahashi, J. & Pike, R. J. Automated classification of topography from DEMS by an unsupervised nested-means algorithm and a three-part geometric signature. Geomorphology 86, 409–440 (2007).

Author information Affiliations US Geological Survey, Pasadena1. US Geological Survey, 525 S. Wilson Avenue, Pasadena, California 91106, USA Susan E. Hough, Doug Given & Alan Yong Bureau des Mines et de l’Energie, Delmas 19, rue nina 14, Box 2174, Port au Prince, Haiti Jean Robert Altidor, Dieuseul Anglade, M. Guillard Janvier, Bernard Saint-Louis Mildor & Claude Prepetit US Geological Survey, Golden, Colorado 80401, USA J. Zebulon Maharrey & Mark

Meremonte Contributions S.E.H., J.R.A., D.A., D.G., M.G.J., J.Z.M., M.M., B.S-L.M. and C.P. contributed to the planning and execution of the field deployment; S.E.H., J.R.A., D.G. and A.Y. contributed to data processing and analysis. Competing financial interests The authors declare no competing financial interests. Corresponding author Correspondence to: Susan E. Hough

NAFTA wants to probe oilsands tailings ponds leaks

Investigators from an environmental watchdog set up as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement want to investigate whether Canada is enforcing its laws on toxic leakage from giant oilsands tailings ponds.

Canada has already told the Commission on Environmental Cooperation that it doesn’t have that right. The disagreement sets up a second fight between the Harper government and the three-nation body intended to ensure free trade doesn’t degrade environmental enforcement.

“The (investigators) have acted contrary to their authority,” says a letter from Environment Canada to the commission. “The current submission should be terminated.”
The conflict stems from a complaint filed in 2010 by two environmental groups and three individuals.

It cites reports and research from governments, industry and environmentalists that all conclude an unknown amount of tailings from the oilsands are seeping into area groundwater. The groups allege the seepage adds up to as much as four billion litres a year of waste water containing hydrocarbons and heavy metals known to be toxic to fish.

They say such releases break the Fisheries Act and they’ve recommended the commission investigate whether Canada is turning a blind eye to environmental crimes by a powerful and lucrative industry.

“We’ve all seen the accumulating evidence over the past year in terms of linking tailings to local watersheds,” said Hannah McKinnon of Environmental Defence Canada, one of the groups that filed the complaint. “Most of us believe they really don’t have this under control.”

On Thursday, commission investigators recommended the body begin looking into those complaints. Any such move must first be approved by a majority vote of the three NAFTA nations.

Instead of responding to the allegations, Canada tried to block the commission by pointing to a legal action filed by a private citizen in Fort McMurray, Alta., that levelled similar criticisms. The commission is not allowed to investigate any matter that’s before the courts.
That legal action was heard in February. The person who filed it confirmed to The Canadian Press that he considers the matter dead.

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Nevertheless, Environment Canada argues that because the appeal period isn’t over, the commission’s staff is offside.

That sets up an impasse which could play out similarly to another conflict with the commission over Canada’s handling of wild salmon stocks.

Commission staff have recommended an investigation into whether Canada protects wild salmon stocks adequately from disease carried by farmed salmon.

Canada, the U.S. and Mexico must vote on whether to approve a salmon investigation by Tuesday. Canada has said it will ignore the results.

“We do not intend to engage in or recognize as valid … any further consideration of this submission,” Environment Canada has written.

A vote on whether to proceed with a tailings pond investigation must be held by Oct. 27. The investigation must be complete within 180 working days and the countries have another 150 working days to review it and decide if it will be made public.

The commission’s enforcement powers are limited, McKinnon acknowledged.

“This is just another opportunity to shed legitimate light on these serious problems.”

McKinnon said the recommendation for a review comes as the world grows increasingly skeptical of Canada’s environmental policies.

“The world really is watching the tar sands and watching Alberta and watching the federal government to see if they really are the great environmental stewards that all of the PR claims they are.”

Since the commission was formed in 1995, Canada has been the subject of 37 per cent of complaints filed. Mexico was named in 49 per cent and the United States in 11 per cent.