Leak says funding cut for Oilands acid rain testing

Alberta has cut funding for tests to determine how much acid rain is falling in the oilsands region around Fort McMurray, according to a government document obtained by The Canadian Press.

EDMONTON — Alberta has cut funding for tests to determine how much acid rain is falling in the oilsands region around Fort McMurray, according to a government document obtained by The Canadian Press.

The cut went ahead even though the same briefing note for the province’s environment minister acknowledges acid rain is falling on the energy boomtown.

“While the acid rain sampling program continues, there is a temporary hold on lab analysis for these samples due to funding constraints,” says the note dated Aug. 11. “Samples are being stored from April 1, 2009, onward.”

The note adds that precipitation falling in northeastern Alberta has a “similar” acidity to that falling downwind in Saskatchewan across the provincial boundary. Last week, the Saskatchewan government confirmed that the pH of that rainfall meets Environment Canada’s definition of acid rain and is about the same acidity as a cup of black coffee.

Alberta has had a network of testing stations measuring the acidity of soil, water and air in the Fort McMurray region since 1978. But while the samples will continue to be collected, they are no longer being analyzed.

Government spokesman Jason Cobb said the lab analysis hasn’t been cut, only rescheduled.

“We’re looking at different ways of doing things and the frequency of the analysis is going to be changing,” Cobb said. “We’re not actually cutting that program.”

Samples were taken on a weekly basis in the past, but now the department is figuring out how much time it can leave between sampling without reducing the overall quality of the data, Cobb said.

“They haven’t determined exactly what form it’s going to take.”

Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, said the cuts are part of a disturbing pattern. He pointed to figures that show Alberta government funding for all environmental monitoring was reduced by almost 25 per cent in the recent budget. That amounts to nearly $3.7 million.

Meanwhile, funding for Alberta’s rebranding effort — inspired at least in part by bad international publicity over province’s environmental policies — was doubled from $5 million to $10 million, an expense that’s expected to last for several years.

“If the government of Alberta wants its environmental management to be taken seriously, these things (monitoring) have to be a priority even in tough economic times,” Dyer said.

“Investments in environmental assurance are being cut, while environmental public relations is being sustained. This kind of approach continues to damage Alberta’s reputation, not help it.”

The briefing note also questions the link between oilsands activity and the gradual acidification of the region.

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