Oil Giant Citgo Criminally Convicted in Bird Deaths (remind you of something?)

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Here’s a rule of thumb: if something is so toxic that birds die when they land on it, it’s probably a good idea to put a cover on it.

In Texas yesterday, a federal district court upheld a criminal conviction against the oil refinery giant Citgo Petroleum after migratory birds landed in two open-top refinery tanks and died. Under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules and Texas law such tanks are supposed to be covered. The court found that the company had known birds were landing and dying in their tanks but failed to do anything about it.

Citgo faces some $2 million in fines. A too small price to pay I think for their negligent behavior.

In Canada’s tar sands, similar cases of migratory bird deaths have been ruled very differently. Many will remember the story in 2008 when 1600 ducks landed on the massive lakes of tar sands toxic by-products and died.

Here’s a news report at the time of the deaths:

Syncrude, the tar sands giant responsible for the deaths, was ordered to pay $3m in fines.

But the deaths continued again in 2010 when more than 500 ducks caught in a winter storm sought refuge on what they thought were fresh water ponds. Those “ponds” turned out to be toxic lakes of sludge courtesy of Syncrude and Suncor. The ducks, covered in oily sludge, had to be put down. 

In early October this year the Alberta government announced there will be no charges laid against Syncrude or Suncor because it was the winter storm that caused the ducks to land and there was nothing the companies could have done to prevent the deaths.

Unlike Citgo, whose relatively small oil refinery tanks can easily be covered with nets, the toxic lakes in Northern Alberta that store all of the sludgy byproducts of tar sands operations are so large they can be seen from space and thus impossible to cover and protect from birds.

So this tragedy has no end. As tar sands production increases, the size of these toxic lakes will increase and the birds that have flown this same migratory path for millions of years will continue to die.

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Kevin is a contributor and strategic adviser to DeSmogBlog.

He runs the digital marketing agency Spake Media House. Named a “Green Hero” by Rolling Stone Magazine and one of the “Top 50 Tweeters” on climate change and environment issues, Kevin has appeared in major news media outlets around the world for his work on digital campaigning.

Kevin has been involved in the public policy arena in both the United States and Canada for more than a decade. For five years he was the managing editor of DeSmogBlog.com. In this role, Kevin’s research into the “climate denial industry” and the right-wing think tank networks was featured in news media articles around the world. He is most well known for his ground-breaking research into David and Charles Koch’s massive financial investments in the Republican and tea party networks.

Kevin is the first person to be designated a “Certified Expert” on the political and community organizing platform NationBuilder.

Prior to DeSmogBlog, Kevin worked in various political and government roles. He was Senior Advisor to the Minister of State for Multiculturalism and a Special Assistant to the Minister of State for Asia Pacific, Foreign Affairs for the Government of Canada. Kevin also worked in various roles in the British Columbia provincial government in the Office of the Premier and the Ministry of Health.

In 2008 Kevin co-founded a groundbreaking new online election tool called Vote for Environment which was later nominated for a World Summit Award in recognition of the world’s best e-Content and innovative ICT applications.

Kevin moved to Washington, DC in 2010 where he worked for two years as the Director of Online Strategy for Greenpeace USA and has since returned to his hometown of Vancouver, Canada.

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