Oilsands monitoring to be revealed within weeks

EDMONTON — Alberta and the federal government are aiming to reveal the first phase of an oilsands environmental monitoring plan by the end of the month.

EDMONTON — Alberta and the federal government are aiming to reveal the first phase of an oilsands environmental monitoring plan by the end of the month.

“We know it is essential for both governments to stand together behind a monitoring system that gives the world assurance that this critical global resource is being developed responsibly,” said Mark Cooper, spokesman for Alberta Environment and Water.

“We plan to deliver a system that is comprehensive and scientifically credible. We’re going to get this right. We can’t afford not to.”

Revamped monitoring comes in response to six reports in 2010 and 2011 that all pointed to problems in how Alberta tracks the environmental impact of the huge and rapidly growing industry. Although the province has collected decades worth of data in the area, reviewers concluded the information didn’t give a very clear picture of what tens of billions of dollars in development have done to the Athabasca River and its watershed.

Last July, both federal and provincial environment ministers announced reforms to monitoring and promised to work together.

Cooper said the announcement coming in the next few weeks won’t give the whole picture. The scientific plan will come first, together with provisions for third-party scientific oversight. Details on governance will come later.

“We want to ensure that the model we develop is efficient and credible and is not seen as another level of bureaucracy.”

A credible monitoring plan is seen by many as an essential step towards defending an industry coming under increasing scrutiny and criticism around the world.

A decision on permitting TransCanada’s (TSX:TRP) Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oilsands bitumen to U.S. refineries, was delayed by the American government by public concern over the impact of the oilsands. The European Union is considering measures that would penalize high-carbon fuels, which would include those derived from Alberta’s tarry resource.

As well, 14 U.S. corporations have announced a range of actions to reduce their carbon footprint — from avoiding oilsands-derived fuel to trying to reduce the environmental impact of transporting their products.

With that in mind, the first phase at the end of the month won’t come a moment too soon, said Ron Wallace, a member of the provincial panel that recommended monitoring reform.

“With…the attention that this has now received worldwide, this is an opportunity for the Alberta government to really shine and to show that it’s committed to a monitoring program. If you lose a year, there are some people who might question the Alberta government’s commitment.”

Wallace said an end-of-January announcement would be barely enough time to get scientists in the field this spring, when research suggests contaminants flow into the Athabasca from meltwater.

David Schindler, a University of Alberta scientist whose work helped push for monitoring reform, said he’ll be looking to ensure the work will be done by qualified staff.

“The spring program will be inadequate if Environment Canada is not included,” he wrote in an email.

Independence is also essential, he said.

“It won’t matter how good it is if it is run solely by government. There will be no trust by the aboriginal people and little by the public at large, including all the foreign governments that Alberta is always trying to convince.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID cases climb in central zone, Red Deer

The total number of active COVID-19 cases in the province reached 3,138… Continue reading

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s municipal affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Energy industry support won’t injure municipalities

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Premier Jason Kenney participated in a livestream on Oct. 17, 2020. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
UCP members pass resolution at AGM calling for privately funded health care option

EDMONTON — Members of Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party have narrowly endorsed… Continue reading

“We weren’t sure what to expect with just doing the 50/50. We have been positively surprised with sales so far,” says Craig Fleming, co-chair of the Red Deer Kinsmen Club’s raffle. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Non-profits put their money on 50/50 draws

COVID impacts fundraising events

Student taking a math test. (Pixabay photo)
David Marsden: Students need more testing, not less

Testing has been central to Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenny and government house leader Jason Nixon chat before the speech from the throne delivered in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Alberta politicians are to return to the legislature Tuesday with a plan to discuss up to 20 new bills — many of which are focused on the province's economic recovery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta legislature to resume Tuesday; focus to be on economic recovery

Alberta legislature to resume Tuesday; focus to be on economic recovery

This image taken with a slow shutter speed on Oct. 2, 2019, and provided by the U.S. Air Force shows an unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile test launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Pentagon has raised to $95.8 billion the estimated cost of fielding a new fleet of land-based nuclear missiles to replace the Minuteman 3 (Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong/U.S. Air Force via AP)
Pentagon estimates cost of new nuclear missiles at $95.8B

Pentagon estimates cost of new nuclear missiles at $95.8B

FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2020, file photo Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Ky. walks towards the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington. New virus relief will have to wait until after the November election. The architect of the Senate measure, McConnell, isn’t claiming the vote will advance the ball. Once the measure fails, he plans to turn the chamber's full attention to cementing a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court by confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
Deadline looms, but COVID relief deal may be far off

Deadline looms, but COVID relief deal may be far off

Large earthquake off Alaska prompts tsunami fears, fleeing

Large earthquake off Alaska prompts tsunami fears, fleeing

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and his granddaughter Finnegan Biden, leave mass at St. Joseph On the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington, Del., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. The Biden family walked to pay respects at his son Beau Biden's grave. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Trump goes after Fauci, tries to buck up his campaign team

Trump goes after Fauci, tries to buck up his campaign team

FILE - This Sept. 15, 2015, file photo, shows Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah. A California woman who was missing for about two weeks in Zion National Park in Utah has been found and left the park with her family who had feared the worst, authorities said. Holly Suzanne Courtier, 38, of Los Angeles, was found Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, by search and rescue crews after park rangers received a tip that she had been seen in the park, Zion National Park officials said in a news release.(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Woman missing for 2 weeks found safe in Zion National Park

Woman missing for 2 weeks found safe in Zion National Park

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti responds to a question during a news conference about training for judges Monday October 19, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Commons gives approval in principle to judges’ sexual assault training bill

Commons gives approval in principle to judges’ sexual assault training bill

Most Read