A lengthy new report on the health and environmental impacts of the oil sands industry in Canada is drawing all sorts of reactions.
The report, “The Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel findings on Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada's Oil Sands Industry,” is drawing ire from all sides — which must mean it's worth something. The entire report is broken down and available for for download, but here are four things I've picked up on since the report's release.
1. The report says the reputation of oil sands is overblown
Already there's a strong reaction to the panel’s findings that the oil sands aren’t that bad. An Edmonton television station jumped all over the panel’s conclusion that there simply isn’t strong evidence linking tar sands to waste runoff and air pollution to cancer. "You won't find that in any scientific papers ... it's mentioned as a concern but there's no evidence in any scientific papers," said panel member Dr. Steve E. Hrudey. Still, the oil sands aren’t getting a free pass here. Treehugger is already reporting that sure, the sands aren’t the “most destructive” project in the world,” but they’re still pretty bad.
2. First Nations communities are not on board with the cancer findings
As soon as the report came out, so too did complaints from the people of Fort Chipewyan. In dispute is a finding that there was no credible evidence linking the increased pollution in oil sands towns to an increase in cancer rates. The Calgary Herald reported that Alice Martin, a Mikisew Cree elder, believes those conclusions were drawn without local input. "We have the knowledge based on us living on the land and seeing what is happening to our people." However, one of the researchers involved with the study claims, according to the Herald Report, that the researchers “examined all the current scientific data available, and also asked for information from First Nations and Metis communities in the area. No one responded.”
3. Government to take part of blame
Glen Van Der Kraak, a professor who was part of the seven-member panel that created the report said, “The Alberta and Canadian governments have not kept pace with respect to the environmental regulatory capacity, and they will be stretched to the limit given the expected further expansion of the oil sands operations.” It’s good to see that disdain for the federal government these days transcends borders, especially to our overly polite neighbors to the north. The Pembina Institute, which runs oilsandswatch.org, used the report to take a few shots of its own at the Canadian government. "To date, government’s attempts to address the deficiencies highlighted by the Royal Society panel have been ineffective, with a much greater emphasis on expanding oil sands development rather than on ensuring the environment and Canadians are protected," said the organization’s Jennifer Grant.
4. Industry not off the hook
As for industry criticisms, there are a few. One website points out that the report reveals industry reclamation projects aren’t up to snuff. “Despite industry claims, land reclamation of surface mining and in-situation development has been slow and a cause for concern,” says the report. There are also findings that there needs to be more collaboration within the oil sand energy extraction business to solve environmental challenges. A Calgary Herald analysis reveals that this new collaboration effort should include sharing of intellectual property for the sake of managing these challenges. That report quotes an official from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ saying, “Collaboration and the sharing of intellectual property makes eminent sense.”