Berger, R.G., Whitfield Aslund, M., Bresee, K., Sanders, G., Charlebois, M.L., and Knopper, L.D.


To assess the ecological impacts of two independent accidental bitumen releases from two steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) wells in the Athabasca oil sands region, a multiple lines of evidence (LOE) approach was developed. Following the release in 2010, action was taken to minimize environmental impact, including the selective removal of the most highly impacted vegetation and the use of oil socks to minimize possible runoff. An ecological risk assessment (ERA) was then conducted based on reported concentrations of bitumen related contaminants in soil, vegetation, and water. Results of biological assessments conducted at the site were also included in the risk characterization. Overall, the conclusion of the ERAwas that the likelihood of long-termadverse health effects to ecological receptors in the area was negligible. To provide evidence for this conclusion, a small mammal sampling plan targeting Southern red-back voles (Myodes gapperi) was carried out at two sites and two relevant reference areas. Voles were readily collected at all locations and no statistically significant differences in morphometric measurements (i.e., body mass, length, foot length, and adjusted liver weight) were found between animals collected from impact zones of varying levels of coverage. Additionally, no trends corresponding with bitumen coverage were observed with respect to metal body burden in voles for metals that were previously identified in the source bitumen. Hepatic ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity was statistically significantly elevated in voles collected from the high impact zones of sites compared to those collected from the reference areas, a finding that is indicative of continued exposure to contaminants. However, this increase in EROD was not correlated with any observable adverse population-wide biological outcomes. Therefore the biological sampling program supported the conclusion of the initial ERA and supported the hypothesis of no significant longterm population-wide ecological impact of the accidental bitumen releases.

Science of the Total Environment. 2016. 542: 495-504.