(Ottawa) Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault takes first step toward improving environmental emergency notification process following sewage leak from oil sands mine in Alberta, which was not made public for nine months.

Imperial Oil and Alberta’s energy regulator were required to notify the federal government of the leaks from tailings ponds at the Kearl mine, after first noticing them last May.

Ottawa was not notified until February, however, after an additional 5.3 million liters of sewage was released.

The First Nations of the region, whose members practice hunting and fishing on the lands and waterways concerned, say they are furious that they were never informed.

Several chiefs and representatives of the Métis communities and First Nations concerned are scheduled to appear before a House of Commons committee on Monday to discuss the situation.

Guilbeault believes their testimony should help inform the efforts of the “new notification and monitoring task force,” which he announced on Monday, to help design a better notification system.

This group will include representatives from the federal and provincial governments, the Northwest Territories, Indigenous communities affected by the releases, as well as representatives from oil sands companies.

“The specific terms of reference for the task force would be established within two months of its establishment. […] From the perspective of the federal government, a better communication protocol must be established to improve notification at all stages of the notification process in the event of environmental emergencies in the future,” said Minister Guilbeault in a statement.