"At present we're seeing at least 11 million liters of wet tailings leached into the Athabasca River each day," Muxlow said.
Companies are under a February 2009 directive, called Directive 74, by the ERCB to move to dry tailings. The goal is turn 50 percent of the existing tailings into solid matter by June 2013.
Muxlow called the rule "toothless."
"It is a voluntary directive," she said. "There is no means of reprimand for companies who do not follow this directive."
Three new tailings lakes for projects have been approved in recent months by the ERCB, Muxlow said, "despite the fact that they don't meet the directive."
Syncrude is the largest oil sands producer in Canada, but the super majors are boosting their share of the growing economic pie, including ExxonMobil, BP and Shell. For its part, Total Canada declares that over the next 10 years, it will make a $15 billion to $20 billion capital investment into Alberta's oil mining industry.
All the companies say they are experimenting with various dry tailings technologies.
Industry Set to Soar
The unconventional oil sands of northern Alberta are the largest source of crude outside the Middle East.
A new report released on June 9 by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers forecasts massive growth. Production will leap to to 2.2 million barrels per day in 2015 and 2.9 million barrels in 2020, it said, even as the industry runs into environmental opposition.
The U.S. will remain Canada's biggest customer.
A recent report by Cambridge, Mass.-based IHS CERA said the Canadian oil sands are on track to become the top source of U.S. crude oil imports this year. They could make up more than a third of the nation's oil product imports by 2030, up from four percent today, the report stated.
Key to that growth is a massive new $12 billion pipeline under review by the federal government.
The Keystone XL Pipeline would carry the crude 2,000 miles from Alberta to the Texas coast. But the project is not cast in stone. It came under fire last week after 50 members of Congress issued a letter against its approval, saying the line would do undue environmental harm.
The State Department's public comment period on its draft environmental impact statement of the pipeline just closed.
In a letter that was rejected by the Washington Post and published on the website of the Province of Alberta on Friday, Premier Ed Stelmach fired back. He called Canada a "great" ally in the fight for American energy security.
"A good neighbour lends you a cup of sugar. A great neighbour supplies you with 1.4 million barrels of oil per day."