Under New Management? Oil Sands Development as if the Environment Mattered

New study calls for "control checklist" on oil sands pollution

TORONTO, April 8 /CNW/ - Canada needs a new regulatory checklist to measure and monitor pollution in Alberta's oil sands, a new study recommends.

The discussion paper, delivered today at a University of Toronto experts' forum, says that "new project approvals and water licenses should be suspended until the federal and Alberta governments have put in place world-class scientific monitoring programs."

The paper is available at www.powi.ca.

Current programs are not adequate and new ones should be funded for 25 years and meet the conditions of a regulatory checklist, said the study's authors, David Schindler, Andrew Miall and Adèle Hurley at the forum, held by the university's Munk School of Global Affairs Program on Water Issues.

Up to now there has been little or no focus on the long term. "Project approval and licensing have been carried out on an individual project basis, with little or no attention paid to cumulative environmental effects," the authors said.

"There are serious questions about the efficacy of provincial environmental management. The scientific input is poor and the process flawed."

Better regulation is especially important now because Canada has become the largest supplier of non-domestic oil to the United States. Each day 1.9 million barrels goes from the Canada to the U.S., almost all of this from the oil sands.

U.S. legislators are considering whether to approve controversial new pipelines from Alberta to refineries near the Gulf of Mexico, and visitors ranging from members of Congress to Oscar-winning director James Cameron have expressed concerns about environmental damage in the oil sands.

"This is clearly a crucial issue for Canada," say the discussion paper's authors.

"Broader public interests, including long-range implications—cumulative environmental impacts and transboundary problems—are not being addressed."

Schindler, a University of Alberta professor, is one of the world's foremost experts on ecology and environmental issues. Miall, a world-renowned petroleum geologist and member of recent oil sands review panels, is a University of Toronto professor. Hurley is Director of the Munk School's Program on Water Issues.

The authors call for a regulatory checklist that will:

  • Be independent from industry
  • Include national scientific and federal leadership
  • Have a transparent and collaborative governance model (a single monitoring agency) with representation from areas directly impacted by rapid development: First Nations; Northwest Territories; the Western provinces and the federal government
  • Have stable long-term funding for 25 years
  • Focus on environmental concerns and suspend any new project approvals and water licences until there is consensus on effective regulation.

Ironically, as Canadians head to the polls May 2, the authors say this is "an ideal time to step out of the political arena, to pause for a review of what are the most critical issues, and to assess what most needs to be done."

Canada needs "a fully transparent and publicly accountable monitoring system that is beyond the reach of day-to-day politics."

SOURCE Program on Water Issues, Munk School, University of Toronto

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Program On Water Issues

David Israelson

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Program on Water Issues, Munk School, University of Toronto

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