Review of Alberta oilsands monitoring program set for release

EDMONTON - The first review of environmental monitoring set up by Alberta and Ottawa in the oilsands region is expected to be released today.

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The independent review is to assess how effective the program has been in measuring the impact of industry development. It is also to lay out how well the jointly run program is tracking changes in the area.

The program, funded by $50 million from industry, was set up in 2012 after intense criticism of how the Alberta government was doing the job. It was designed by federal and Alberta scientists and is run by both levels of government.

It was supposed to have been fully implemented by the end of last year, but uncertainties with the program remain.

It lacks involvement from local First Nations, who pulled out in protest over what they say was inadequate attention to their environmental concerns.

There are also questions about whether the program's funding is adequate. A mobile air-testing unit had to be pulled off the road when it was decided there wasn't enough money in the budget to pay for repairs.

Officials with Alberta's monitoring agency have said the organization has only been fully operational for about a year and is still evaluating the real cost of comprehensive and scientifically sound monitoring in the oilsands region and the rest of Alberta.

The new program was initiated after scientific studies indicated that, while overall levels remained low, contaminants in the land and water around oilsands developments were increasing.

Two peer reviews, as well as an expert scientific panel from the Royal Society of Canada, were also harshly critical.

Jim Prentice, federal environment minister at the time, pressured the Alberta government to change its approach.

The new oilsands program is administered by the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluating and Reporting Agency. That agency is eventually to conduct environmental monitoring over the entire province.



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