At least 230 ducks had to be euthanized after landing on a Syncrude tailings pond, with new reports emerging that ducks also landed in tailings ponds owned by Suncor and Shell. 

The province says Alberta Environment staff are at Syncrude and Suncor and will be heading to Suncor to work with the companies. The Alberta Environment Support and Emergency Response Team has been sent to the region to co-ordinate these efforts.

Syncrude Canada said that the ducks landed on their Mildred Lake Settling Basin Monday evening. It's the company's largest pond, holding 220 million cubic metres of tailings liquid. 

The 230 ducks had to be euthanized due to contact with bitumen floating on the surface, and the remaining birds are being assessed by government crews and Syncrude workers.

Syncrude said the unusual bird activity was due to a freezing rain storm in the area. But on the Environment Canada website, there is no record of precipitation last night in that area.

The waterfowl deterrent system had been in full operation at the time and extra air cannons, flare guns and air horns had been used, but with no response, Syncrude added.

The government requires companies to have a comprehensive bird deterrent system in place to operate their tailings ponds.

"I cannot express how disappointed and frustrated I am that this incident occurred," said Rob Renner, Alberta Minister of Environment, who said the timing could not be worse.

"Albertans deserve answers to why this happened again, and we will do everything we can to get those answers quickly."

Premier Ed Stelmach said the event is "sad and disappointing in light of the court and judge's decision last week" but the government is investigating.

Less than a week ago, Syncrude was ordered to pay $3 million in fines after more than 1,600 dead or dying ducks were found in a tailings pond in April 2008. It was the largest environmental penalty in Alberta's history.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann said he was "at a loss" to explain Renner's confusion of how this could happen, adding: "The ponds are built directly in migratory bird patterns."

Syncrude president and CEO Scott Sullivan said they are cooperating with regulators and working to minimize waterfowl losses.

This recent incident demonstrates that tailings ponds still prove to be a threat, said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace.

"It's obvious that the provincial and federal government are asleep at the wheel in regulating the tar sands industry and that nothing has changed since 1,600 ducks died two years ago," Hudema said in a statement.

"Syncrude needs more than a slap on the wrist and this government needs to do more than act as a public relations firm for the tar sands."