Half the news that’s fit to report

I like watching Global TV news because I find they generally cover local stories of interest. But lately I am dismayed by their apparent interest in telling only half the story — under the guise of reporting, I guess.

I like watching Global TV news because I find they generally cover local stories of interest. But lately I am dismayed by their apparent interest in telling only half the story — under the guise of reporting, I guess.

When I worked in television, reporting meant covering what someone said — then checking to see if that was true or not. And reporting on that as well.

Apparently today’s broadcast journalists — at least those at Global TV Edmonton — have lost that ability.

This week, the news was broadcasting a report about the climate change talks in Cancun where some bright light has come up with a mockup ad about Rob Renner that Global TV said “makes fun of the Alberta government for not doing anything about pollution” from the oilsands.

Despite the fact that Global TV’s studio is just a 15-minute drive from the Alberta legislature, and that Alberta Environment’s offices are close at hand, apparently this is too big a challenge for Global TV reporters to go and find out if in fact Alberta is not doing anything about pollution from the oilsands.

So, since they won’t tell you about what Alberta is doing, I will.

First of all, how do I know? I used to work at Alberta Environment — years ago. I am not in their pay and I’m sure the Alberta government generally hates me for all the critical op-eds I have written about health care. I’m writing this because I care about the facts.

Secondly, what is Alberta doing? Well, unfortunately they are not doing enough communicating with the public about the basic facts about oilsands development.

Here’s what I know.

I know that it takes about five years for an oilsands developer to develop an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to submit to Alberta Environment. Without approval at that stage, no development can begin.

For the first year of the EIA development, the oilsands engineering subcontractor sends experts to the area to be developed and base line data is collected on the area — what kind of wildlife, plants, migratory patterns, river flows, etc. They do this because a key part of the application requires them to reclaim and restore the area once extraction is complete — perhaps 10 or 20 years from now.

The oilsands companies employ large engineering firms who have in-house and external specialist contractors in the area of groundwater, hydrology, water quality, fish and fish habitat (aquatic ecologists), air quality (air quality modellers), human health, soils and terrain, vegetation, wildlife, socioeconomics, traditional and resource land use and historical impact assessment.

Each EIA typically employs over 15 different civil engineers, five or six of whom would possess PhDs in hydrology with over 10 years of experience in the oilsands region. Groundwater, air and water quality teams would be composed of similar cross-sections of people and qualifications.

Some 7,000 pages or more of detailed documentation are submitted to Alberta Environment for review — and the content is reviewed by scientific experts in house — as well as submitted to outside experts for peer review. When relevant to federal laws, departments like Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources or others are also involved.

This long, detailed review costs up to $7 million and is no guarantee that the project will be approved — though Alberta Environment works closely with applicants to ensure they provide sufficient and substantial information because it is such a costly and time-consuming project.

The completed EIAs demand that the developing company provide a complete picture of their intended activities and mitigations to environmental impacts — from the beginning of the project, to the final decommissioning and complete reclamation. That means the plan has to cover some 20 to 40 years of the life of the project.

Once operational, the projects are monitored 24/seven for air and water quality by the Alberta government and relevant federal agencies. Operators are fined for non-compliance.

This is the story of the people of Alberta who have built a modern-day industry out of a former tar pit. About 58,000 engineers, geologists and geophysicists (APEGGA) in Alberta alone are part of the teams who make sure the oilsands facilities are safe, environmentally sound and operational for decades.

Hundreds of thousands of Albertans and Canadians are gainfully employed (a ratio of some 1:4 direct and 1:9 indirect job creation) due to oilsands development and a cascade of benefits that come down to various communities in the form of arts and culture grants, economic development initiatives and technological advances.

You would think such a story would be treated with some respect for the facts. But it is all swept away in the twinkling of an eye by a single statement of a Global TV news anchor who says the Cancun ad “makes fun of the Alberta government for not doing anything about pollution” from the oilsands — implying by omission that Alberta is doing nothing and suggesting that the oilsands operators are guilty of unplanned, unchecked or unregulated pollution.

Nothing could be further from the truth. So why aren’t we being told the whole story Global? What’s your agenda? It’s obviously not comprehensive news.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka-based freelance columnist.

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