Canada vows stricter look at oil sands pollution

Tue Dec 21, 2010 12:49pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada said on Tuesday it will design a system to better monitor whether northern Alberta's huge oil sands projects are polluting waterways after an independent scientific panel found major flaws in the current monitoring system.

Environment Minister John Baird made the announcement after the panel reported "there was no evidence of science leadership to ensure that monitoring and research activities are planned and performed in a coordinated way."

Ottawa set up the scientific panel in September after an academic report concluded oil sands plants were sending toxins, including mercury, arsenic and lead, into the watershed. The report also attacked the credibility of a government-supported and industry-funded water-monitoring agency.

"For far too long we have heard concerns about the quality of water downstream of the oil sands," Baird told a news conference, saying Ottawa and the Alberta provincial government would design an effective water monitoring system within 90 days.

"We will then consult with a group of independent scientists to ensure that the proposed design is appropriate and then move immediately to implementation," he said.

The panel's report is not expected to have any immediate impact on production in oil sands, the largest source of crude outside Saudi Arabia.

The energy industry is pouring billions of dollars into developing the oil sands, and argues it follows environmental best practices. Environmentalists say the projects produce vast amounts of greenhouse gases and toxic waste.

The panel said current problems include fragmentation of the monitoring system as well as a lack of leadership and coordination.   Continued...