Land reclamation by developers of the Canadian oil sands and environmental regulation by the Alberta and Canadian governments are not keeping pace with the rapid rate of land disturbance and project development, according to an expert panel commissioned by the Royal Society of Canada.
However, the panel also found that oil sands production has limited impact on the local environment and people.
The panel’s report entitled Environmental and Health Impact of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry was released yesterday in Edmonton, Alberta.
- "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. Current practices for obtaining financial security for reclamation liability leave Albertans vulnerable to major financial risks."
- "There is currently no credible evidence of environmental contaminant exposures from oil sands reaching Fort Chipweyan at levels expected to cause elevated human cancer rates. More monitoring focused on human contaminant exposures is needed to address First Nation and community concerns."
- "There is population level evidence that residents of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo experience a range of health indicators, consistent with “boom town” impacts and community infrastructure deficits, which are poorer than those of a comparable Alberta region and provincial averages."
- "Current industrial water use demands do not threaten the viability of the Athabasca River system if the Water Management Framework developed to protect in-stream, ecosystem flow needs is fully implemented and enforced."
- "Current evidence on water quality impacts on the Athabasca River system suggests that oil sands development activities are not a current threat to aquatic ecosystem viability. However, there are valid concerns about the current Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program that must be addressed. The regional cumulative impact on groundwater quantity and quality has not been assessed."
- "Technologies for improved tailings management are emerging but the rate of improvement has not prevented a growing inventory of tailings ponds. Reclamation and management options for wet landscapes derived from tailings ponds have been researched but are not adequately demonstrated."
- "The current ambient air quality monitoring data for the region show minimal impacts from oil sands development on regional air quality except for noxious odour emission problems over the past two years. Control of NOx emissions and regional acidification potential remain valid concerns."
- "Progress has been made by the oil sands industry in reducing its GHG emission per barrel of bitumen produced. Nonetheless, increasing GHG emissions from growing bitumen production creates a major challenge for Canada to meet our international commitments for overall GHG emission reduction that current technology options do not resolve."
- "The environmental regulatory capacity of the Alberta and Canadian Governments does not appear to have kept pace with the rapid expansion of the oil sands industry over the past decade. The EIA process relied upon by decision-makers to determine whether proposed projects are in the public interest has serious deficiencies in relation to international best practice. Environmental data access for cumulative impact assessment needs to improve."
The oil sands account for 1.5 million barrels a day (BPD) of Canada’s total oil production of 2.8 million BPD, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Oil sands production is forecast to increase to 2.2 million BPD by 2015, to 2.9 million BPD by 2020 and to 3.5 million BPD by 2025.
The United States imports about 60 percent of its oil needs. Canada is the largest supplier of oil to the United States, providing about 1.94 million BPD, or 21 percent of U.S. imports of 9.1 million BPD, according to the September 2010 data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency.
Photo credit: Suncor
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