Harper government releases Alberta oil sands monitoring data

Information about the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring was released today to the public by the Harper government.

To commemorate Earth Day today, the federal government has released environmental data for the oil sands. The newly release informationcan be found here.

A new website containing the newly released information on the tar sands features data such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels in the air.  It shows that these levels are monitored by ground-based instruments as well as satellites.

The graph below seems to reflect and back up information in an Environment Alberta video, in which an expert suggests that the air in Fort McKay and Fort McMurray near oil sands production is less polluted than in major Canadian cities such as Edmonton. 

Screencap from website

As for water monitoring around the Athabasca River, which has been a serious topic of concern for people living downstream from oil sands development, such as the Fort Chip First Nation community, which has blamed oil sands pollution for elevated cancer rates and strange tumors in fish. The new website states that not enough data is available to make any conclusions. 

"Analysis of the data being released is still ongoing. As of the time of this data release, the time series of data is too limited to draw any conclusions. As the data increases with continued monitoring, it will provide an indication of water quality at the northern end of the oil sands region before water flows into Lake Athabasca."

The information will complement research currently available on the Environment Alberta oil sands data website, which includes interactive maps, tailings pond and climate change-related data.

“Today, as the world celebrates Earth Day and showcases commitments to protecting the environment, Canada is contributing and doing our part, by delivering on our collective promise to ensure that scientific data from the monitoring activity is transparent and accessible,” said Environment Minister Peter Kent.

Organizations such as Greenpeace say that the monitoring program is still far from completed, and have concerns about the independence of the research.

“Good data is better than bad data, but the tar sands monitoring system is still not independent and governments still aren't using it to make better decisions. There is no indication of when, or even if, this will become a truly independent monitoring regime as recommended by the federal government’s scientific panel," said Edmonton-based Greenpeace climate campaigner Mike Hudema.

"It's amazing the government still makes world-class claims, yet rushes the approvals of new projects when we still don't know the impacts of existing ones."

The Joint Plan will monitor the impacts of oil sands development over an area covering some 140,000 square kilometres.


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