A plan for monitoring the environmental impacts of Canada’s oil-sands operations now has a roadmap for its implementation. More important, commentators say, is whether there will be an additional move to have an independent panel, rather than government or industry watchdogs, oversee that monitoring.
Diana McQueen, who was recently appointed environment minister for the province of Alberta, where the oil sands are located, has said she agrees with this idea and will work towards it. University of Alberta researcher David Schindler, who has drawn attention to the problems of run-off from the oil-sands operations affecting fish and water quality (see ‘Tar sands need solid science‘), is impressed. “I think they’re sincere in their efforts to move management of this to an independent panel. That’s the battle that’s been won,” he says. “I’ve been invited to come and discuss the panel’s makeup with the provincial government,” he adds.
The Canadian government promised to do something to improve monitoring of the environmental impacts of oil-sands mining in December 2010. They followed this with a proposed monitoring plan in July 2011. The new implementation plan, released jointly on 3 February by the federal government and the province of Alberta, spells out how that monitoring will be achieved.
Alberta’s oil sands make Canada the world’s second largest holder of oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia.
The plan requires about US$50 million a year to run, which will require a serious top-up of funding from industry. Canada’s environment minister Peter Kent says he is confident industry will foot the bill; the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says that it supports the plan, but hasn’t committed to paying for it yet.
The new monitoring scheme will start this spring with the snowmelt, and should take three years to be ramped up to full operation.