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Panel's report suggests Alberta's oilsands are getting a bad rep
A tailings pond reflects the Syncrude oilsands mine facility near Fort McMurray, Alta., Wednesday, July 9, 2008. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)
Published Wednesday, December 15, 2010 6:21PM MST
An independent panel, which includes seven scientists, has released a report that suggests there is no credible that containment exposures from oilsands reaching downstream communities such as Fort Chipewyan are causing cancer.
The development of the oilsands has become a growing issue in Canada. Oilsands developments have been accused of causing water contamination, air pollution and elevating cancer rates in northern communities.
But a report issued by the Royal Society of Canada states there is no credible evidence to prove any of the accusations.
"You won't find that in any scientific papers... it's mentioned as a concern but there's no evidence in any scientific papers," said panel member Dr. Steve E. Hrudey.
The study also highlighted some issues with oilsands companies. The panel suggests the companies are disturbing more land than they are reclaiming. It was also mentioned that the technology for improving tailings management is falling far behind growth.
"Reclamation is not keeping pace with the rate of land disturbance but research indicates that sustainable uplands reclamation is achievable and ultimately should be able to support traditional land uses."
The report also finds both the provincial and federal governments aren't doing enough to regulate the oilsands. The panel believes impact assessments have serious deficiencies and both governments aren't transparent enough adding that the province lacks the staff and possibly the knowledge to monitor the industry.
Critics suggest a lack of funding is to blame.
"This ministry actually cut its funding in the last two budgets at the same time that oilsands development is growing at an unprecedented rate," said NDP MLA Rachel Notley.
The panel thinks all levels of government should establish a research capacity to "monitor and investigate independently the current health impacts of oilsands projects."
And the environment minister has admitted the province needs to do better to prove it has a world class monitoring system holding some of the world's biggest oil companies accountable.
"On a go forward basis this resource is valuable enough that we have to have a monitoring system that is not only credible but seen to be credible," said Rob Renner.
The report also criticizes the province for not collecting enough money from companies to pay for environmental problems in the future, which ultimately leaves taxpayers on the hook.
Earlier this year, the federal government decided to appoint a panel of scientists to look at contamination levels in the Athabasca River and focus on the monitoring system as a whole.
The provincial government also announced plans to have a team of independents scientists study how the oilsands may be affecting water quality.
The federal study on the Athabasca River is set to be released Thursday.
With files from Scott Roberts