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article imageOp-Ed: Is Canada’s oil sands monitoring program a ‘PR stunt’?

By Kathleen Blanchard     Feb 5, 2012 in Environment
Environment Canada announces they are taking steps to monitor the effects of development of oil sands in the area. The plan is designed to gauge the cumulative effects on the environment from oil production from tar sands.
According to a press release, issued two days ago, “Today we are launching one of the most transparent and accountable oil sands monitoring system in the world. These scientific reports will be posted on our web page for the world to see. We challenge others in the international oil producing community to match Canada's commitment to environmental monitoring.”
CAPP president, Dave Collyer reacted to the announcement by saying, a “world-class monitoring system will contribute to improved performance reporting, regional planning and industry performance improvement as the oil sands industry continues to grow.”
Oil sands are an important source of energy. According to “Oil Sands of Canada”, 1 million barrels of oil are produced from the tarry sands each day. Of those, one out of six barrels is exported to the United States.
The “Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring” outlines a plan to sample more sites for substances in the air and land, in addition to looking at biodiversity in the sands.
Protecting the environment is an important issue for Albertans and Canadians.
“Albertans, and Canadians, have high expectations that we excel at both energy production and environmental protection,” said the Honourable Diana McQueen, Minister of Alberta Environment and Water. “We can have it both ways. We are confident this environmental monitoring system will be one of the most progressive and comprehensive of any industrially developed region in the world.”'
There are been concerns about the environmental impact of tar sand development, specifically from global warming. The monitoring program may be an effort to protect the future of the industry that is of major economic importance.
According to Environmental Defence, Canada, oil sands are a major source of pollution that can lead to poor water and air quality.
The three-year plan starts this spring.
NDP critic Megan Leslie stated last year she believed oil sand development should be put on hold until the government put a monitoring plan in place.
Her reaction to the new program is less than positive.
"The announcement was a public relations stunt," says Leslie. "The Alberta Environmental Monitoring Panel said any monitoring that's done has to be arm's-length; it has to be separate from government and we heard the environment minister say today it's still going to be government run."
Scott Vaughn, the commissioner on the environment and sustainable development, also slammed the Canadian government last year. Vaughn issued an 80 page report showing Canada is failing to meet greenhouse gas emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol.
Calgary economist Dr. Frank Atkins says the new plan monitors pollutants, but doesn’t force companies into making changes, reports 660News.
Once again, we may be seeing a case of environmental health and politics at odds. The “Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring” should be welcome. However, looking at current and past criticism, millions of dollars at stake, public concerns about tar sand development, combined with Megan Leslie’s response to Environment Canada's announcement, there may be more to the announcement than meets the eye. We can hope Canada's oil sands monitoring program is not a “PR stunt”. Some reactions suggest it may be so.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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