Canada Oil Sands Regulation Deficient


"Land reclamation is not keeping pace with development."

Reclamation in Canada's oil sands is not keeping pace with rapid development, which could leave the public vulnerable to major financial burdens in coming years, according to a Royal Society of Canada Scientists study that also concluded its governments and regulators lag world standards in their ability to oversee the industry and monitor its environmental impact.

Alberta's oil sands comprise the largest source of crude outside Saudi Arabia, garnering billions of dollars from the world's oil industry. However, the environmental impact of the rush to develop the oil is under intense scrutiny by environmentalists and politicians.

The panel, chaired by Steve Hrudey, professor emeritus of analytical and environmental toxicology at the University of Alberta, pointed out uncertainty in the industry's ability to reclaim wetlands, given current methods. Technology to manage tailings ponds—toxic byproducts of extraction—has improved over the past decade, despite the deaths of hundreds of ducks that landed on a toxic pond.

However, the report said government should proceed with efforts to improve financial liability programs for both mining and thermal-oil sands developments by putting extraction and upgrading plants on the list of facilities that must be reclaimed. It found environmental assessment practices deficient, based on guidelines from such agencies as the International Association for Impact Assessment, OECD and World Bank.

Overall risk assessments for natural disasters, community health assessment and cumulative ecological effects are inadequate, the panel said. Representatives from both ends of the oil sands-development spectrum said the report backed up their positions.

"Given that there has already been a doubling of oil sands development approved, we need to consider slowing down development and halting any new approvals until we've addressed the shortcomings identified in this report," said Pembina Institute Oil Sands Program Director Jennifer Grant.

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