Alberta’s third attempt to demonstrate credible environmental oversight of tar sands/oil sands development has earned “a solid B” from a scientific review panel.
Alberta and Ottawa established the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) program in 2012, after a provincially-mandated predecessor was found to be incapable of detecting environmental trends, the cumulative effects of expanding bitumen extraction, or even whether oil companies were living up to conditions of their operating licences. (An even earlier system, relying on private contractors, was abandoned during mid-1990s budget cuts.)
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The JOSM provides for federal oversight of the province’s latest monitoring body, the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA), created in 2014.
Philip Hopke, director of the Centre for Air Resources Engineering and Science at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., who led the review of the new system, lauded its initial flurry of data collection, but faulted it for failing to adequately evaluate what it was gathering.
“The question is, when do we start seeing a lot more effort to convert that data into information?” Hopke asked.
Unlike the previous agencies, the current model generally “follows good scientific methods, looks at relevant issues, uses internationally recognized standards, and takes steps to make data widely available,” Hopke said.
But the agency has “regularly failed to analyze, interpret, and report on that data,” the Financial Post reports. To remedy that, Hopke’s group “urged JOSM to publish reports on the data, to make the data more easily searchable, and develop a plan that outlines exactly what data is most important for the government to track.”
AEMERA released a statement saying it accepted the review’s recommendations in full. Other, independent research has found that pollution from tar sands/oil sands operations can travel hundreds of kilometres, prompting more than 100 scientists to call last year for a moratorium on further development.
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