Study: Oil sands tied to high mercury levels

Oct. 16, 2013 at 6:36 AM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- An advocacy group said it was concerned about the mercury levels associated with the extraction of so-called oil sands in Alberta, Canada.

The Canadian Department of Natural Resources said oil production from North America is expected to increase more than 10 percent by 2016 in part because of Canadian oil production. In Alberta, home to the giant Athabasca tight oil play, production should reach 170,000 barrels per day by 2014.

Oil Change International, a U.S. advocacy group critical of oil sands development, said a study published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Science and Technology Journal found bird eggs close to oil sand operations were contaminated with mercury.

"If levels are rising in birds this could be an indicator that mercury levels are rising in fish in local rivers too," the group said in a statement Tuesday.

Companies developing the heavier crude oil from Canada say many of the environmental concerns are overstated.

In January, Canadian researchers published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on the legacy of oil sands development in the Athabasca region of Alberta province. It said the volume of potentially toxic hydrocarbons in lake sediment near Canadian oil sands "increased significantly" after development.

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