Greenpeace says plan oil sands monitoring lacks independent oversight
By Beacon staff
A new oil sands monitoring system is being lauded by environment ministers, but an environmental organization says it doesn’t go far enough.
Peter Kent, federal environment minister, and Diana McQueen, Alberta environment and sustainable resource development minister, toured several of the new Alberta oil sands monitoring stations
The stations are part of the early stages of the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring.
The governments say the implementation plan, announced by Kent and McQueen in February, commits to a scientifically rigorous, comprehensive, integrated, and transparent environmental monitoring program for the region.
The plan is designed to enhance the monitoring of water, air, land and biodiversity in the oil sands by sampling more sites for more substances more frequently. The program is also designed to provide an improved understanding of the long-term cumulative effects of oil sands development.
Both ministers say they are pleased with the progress they saw, noting that the monitoring enhancements for the first year of the plan are well underway, that the joint approach is working well, and that initial results from the new enhanced monitoring are expected this year.
Kent says the Alberta oil sands are a key driver of the Canadian economy and are currently responsible for over 400,000 jobs.
“Today, it is clear to see that this system is on track for full implementation in 2015. We challenge others in the international oil producing community to match Canada’s commitment to environmental monitoring,” he said.
“The enhanced monitoring program for the oil sands region provides assurance to Albertans, Canadians, and the world that this critical resource is being managed properly,” said McQueen. “I’m confident that these enhancements are setting the stage for a truly state-of-the-art environmental program for the oil sands region.”
Implementation will continue to be phased in over three years to ensure installation of necessary infrastructure, incremental enhancement of activities and appropriate integration with existing monitoring activities in the region.
Pembina Institute Oilsands Program Director Jennifer Grant said the announcement showcases the progress made to date in developing a credible environmental monitoring system for the Alberta oil sands.
“Seeing tangible, on-the-ground improvements is positive and we look forward to similar progress implementing an independent governance system with enhanced inclusivity and a sustainable, long-term funding model,” said Grant.
But Greenpeace argues the lack of independent oversight is a serious flaw in the oil sands monitoring system. Spokesperson Mike Hudema says the announcement seems more like a photo-op to divert attention from Alberta’s pipeline problems then any real signs of progress.
“One of the federal and provincial panels key recommendations was that the monitoring should have independent oversight because we can no longer trust the government or tar sands companies whose profits depend on glowing reviews to give us truthful information about tar sands impacts,” he said.
The government should stop approving new oil sands projects until it has data from the monitoring system that proves the northern ecosystem can support them, Hudema suggests.
“We are also still two to three years away from a potentially credible monitoring program and yet the federal and provincial governments continue to approve new projects even though we may be past some ecological thresholds,” he said.
Grant says rigorous monitoring is only one component of responsible development. The Pembina Institute will continue to work with the governments of Alberta and Canada to advance other critical pieces of the puzzle.
“These include cumulative environmental triggers and limits that protect air quality, wildlife and water, and a completed land use plan. The full package is needed to get the job done right,” she said.