Canada forms panel to probe oil sands pollution

Fri Oct 1, 2010 12:54am EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada's environment minster has formed a scientific panel to examine whether Alberta's oil sands projects are polluting the Athabasca River as charged by an influential water ecologist.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice said on Thursday the panel, led by a former United Nations Environment Program director, will advise him on the state of water research and monitoring being done in the oil sands region.

The panel comes as part of a response to a growing debate about the environmental impact of developing the vast Canadian oil sands. It's the largest oil reserve outside of the Middle East, but it's a growing source of greenhouse gasses and the waste ponds at mining projects are toxic to wildlife.

Output from the region, the largest single source of U.S. oil imports, is expected to about double to 3 million barrels a day by 2020.

The extra production will come from new projects and expansions of existing facilities run by Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Total SA, Suncor Energy Inc, ConocoPhillips and others.

The move follows the Alberta government's announcement last week that it will form an independent panel of scientists to study the Athabasca, which flows through the region that is the site of massive oil sands plants.

"The mandate of this advisory panel is to provide me with advice that responds to the criticism that we've been hearing about the quality of the water monitoring," Prentice told Reuters. "Obviously you can't have good public policy if you don't have good data, and the criticisms I've been concerned about over the last several months call into question how we are doing the testing, in particular the water testing."

The initiatives come after a report coauthored by University of Alberta biologist David Schindler, which concluded that oil sands plants are sending toxins including mercury, arsenic and lead into the watershed.   Continued...