Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In Fairness to the Tar Sands

An independent team of researchers from The Royal Society of Canada reports that there's no credible evidence that Tar Sands contaminants are causing cancer in downstream communities.   But the team went on to castigate Alberta and federal government authorities for being asleep at the wheel:

But when it comes to regulating the industry, governments have not kept up with its growth, especially Alberta's Environment and Resource Development ministries, the report says.

" These agencies need to seriously review whether they have and can effectively maintain the specialized technical expertise needed to regulate industrial development of this scope and sophistication,"  the summary says.

As well, Alberta's environmental review process is " seriously deficient"  in assessing health and socio-economic impacts.

..." There has generally been inadequate overall risk assessment for technological and natural disasters, assessment of community health impacts, integrated and cumulative ecological impact assessment, and assessment of regional socio-economic impacts."

Water monitoring of the oilsands is of a lower standard than that used for forestry and the data from the program isn't made public.

" There are valid concerns about the structure of [the monitoring program] that need to be addressed regarding the appropriateness of the data collected, public access to data, independent scientific oversight and verification of results."

Not enough is known about groundwater movement in northern Alberta, says the summary, especially as the industry moves from open-pit to underground mining.

As well, the report says the province hasn't obtained enough financial guarantees to ensure oilsands mines get cleaned up — although the province has said it is negotiating with industry on the issue.

The report also scolds Ottawa for failing to enforce federal legislation over the oilsands.

" Despite many clear areas of valid federal interest, the profile of relevant federal agencies has been low."

Read more:


LMA said...

So what exactly is the scientific value of this report if it is based on data from a water monitoring program that is acknowledged to be inadequate, biased and unverified? Garbage in, garbage out.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well I consider the Royal Society highly credible so I would be surprised if their work was seriously flawed. I think they were just trying to find a causal link between Tar Sands tailings and Fort Chip cancer rates. Did they look in the right places, did they conduct the right tests, did they interpret the data correctly, who knows? I'll wait until David Schindler gives his take on this. If their work is bogus, he'll say so.

LMA said...

I do wonder how the chair of the panel can describe the Athabasca as a "very clean river", as reported by the CBC. As you say, who knows, wait for the experts to judge, but I remain highly suspicious.

LMA said...

Just to update MoS, there is an excellent review of the Royal Society findings by Andrew Nikiforuk in The Tyee today which you may have already read. It does appear that the scientists did rely on flawed reports and data regarding a possible link between the Tar Sands and cancers in the Fort Chip residents.

Although the Royal Society is to be commended for getting the big picture right with respect to shamefully inadequate Tar Sands regulation, monitoring and research, one would think that they would have accompanied their conclusions regarding cancer concerns with a disclaimer disclosing the limitations of their data base. No wonder Fort Chip residents are demanding a community based, independent monitoring system. I wouldn't drink the Athabasca water either.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks LMA. No, I didn't get around to the Tyee today but I will now. While I have a lot of time for Nikiforuk it will be David Schindler who has the stature to stand up to the Royal Society types. The encouraging part is that Schindler won't hesitate to rebut their findings if that's warranted. He probably knows that river better than anyone.

Thanks again

The Mound of Sound said...

One other thing. I haven't read the actual Royal Society report and I suspect you haven't seen it either. What we're going on are press accounts, probably based on some sort of executive summary. Don't rely on the media to report any reservations or nuances in the findings. The fact you haven't heard them in news reports hardly indicates the findings are unequivocal.

When I was a reporter I never trusted lawyers. When I became a lawyer I learned to distrust reporters. Once, a reporter gave me hell for declining his questions. When I explained I wasn't responding because I had been a reporter, he stopped putting up any fight.

Anonymous said...

There are deformed fish, in lake Athabasca. There has been oil found, in the mighty Athabasca river. The Athabasca watershed is contaminated. Another flock of ducks perished, when they landed in the filthy sludge. All of the toxic crap from the tar sands, is leaching into the eco system. I would not be the least surprised, if a lot of people don't die of cancer, including the people that work there. I would love to give all of the politicians, bottles of water to drink, from a nearby river or stream. The reindeer are dying because of the, dirty tar sands. That dirty crap, kills everything, that's how toxic it is.