Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dealing with Water Usage in Canada's Oilsands: "There is no system"

Hello everyone,

Hope everyone is enjoying their winter holidays. I wanted to post this recent article about the water system (or lack of a real one) used at the Oilsands in Alberta (essentially the Canadian Oilsands). As we know, water usage, conservation, and preservation is a very crucial issue not only to all the people living in Canada but all the people living around the world.

Please take a read at this news article by CBC, and form your own conclusions and opinions! If you stick around, I have a few words to say after the article.

Oilsands panel recommends critical fixes

Last Updated: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | 5:22 PM ET 

A high-level scientific panel has sharply criticized the water quality monitoring system in Alberta's oilsands, going so far as to say “there is no system.”
The Oilsands Advisory Panel, appointed by former federal environment minister Jim Prentice, made its findings public in Ottawa on Tuesday in a joint news conference with current Environment Minister John Baird, who promised to act on the panel’s recommendations. The panel’s chair, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, was critical of a piecemeal approach to water quality monitoring, saying the system is fragmented with no links between data on water quality — including ground water — and air quality.

She also said there is no reliable longitudinal data that would give a solid understanding of the environmental impact of the oilsands.

“There is no holistic and comprehensive system. There is no system,” said Dowdeswell, president of the Council of Canadian Academies and former executive director of the United Nations Environment Program.
“The panel was unanimous: Do we have a world class monitoring system in place? In short, no. However, we could have,” she said.

The panel underlined a critical need for a new governance structure including an inter-jurisdictional steering committee, an external scientific advisory committee and sufficient resources to follow through.
Dowdeswell did not cast blame. “It’s not that anybody has had any particular ill will,” she said. Rather, the present regime of water quality monitoring has just grown up as a very piecemeal system.

Response to criticism

She was one of six experts appointed to the panel in September and given a mandate by the federal government to review water data in the oilsands and make recommendations on the monitoring system.
The other panel members were Peter Dillon of Trent University, McGill University's Subhasis Ghoshal, Andrew Miall from the University of Toronto, Joseph Rasmussen of the University of Lethbridge and Queen's University's John Smol.

Prentice convened the panel in response to criticism about water monitoring in the Athabasca watershed in northern Alberta. In particular, a peer-reviewed study published by University of Alberta water scientist David Schindler found elevated levels of cadmium, mercury, lead and other toxic elements in the Athabasca River.

This contradicted provincial government and industry scientists who claimed the toxins were naturally occurring.

Despite previous federal claims that the oilsands are properly monitored, Baird said on Tuesday that his government accepts the panel’s findings and will act on them.
"For far too long, we have heard concerns about quality of water downstream from the oilsands," he said

'Ready to act'

"We've heard the panel loud and clear and are ready to act…. We accept this responsibility and will ensure our monitoring systems are properly and securely in place,” said Baird.

The minister said he has already directed senior officials to create a water quality monitoring plan in co-operation with the provincial government within 90 days. Once that is complete, he said the government will ask for scientific input to assess the plan, after which it will be implemented. He said monitoring data will be made public at no charge.

The government plans to use same process to examine air quality and biodiversity in the oilsands region, Baird said.

On Monday, Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner said his province is changing how it monitors water in the oilsands. He announced that a group of independent experts will gather in January and report to the province in June on how to best set up an environmental monitoring system.
He said the expert group will guide the province on how to implement recommendations from both the federal and provincial panels.

In September, Alberta announced its own panel of independent scientists to review the oilsands water quality monitoring system. It is due to finish its report in February.

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/politics/story/2010/12/21/oilsands-pollution-report.html


Regarding the oilsands, it is especially necessary for all measures in minimizing environmental disturbance to be taken. One probably cannot believe just how much water is used and used and used to process the oil. Now, because Canada currently is so reliant on the operation of the Oilsands, overseeing parties such as the government and the operating companies must be more than responsible for their day to day actions.  There is no hiding from that. Until the day when they are forced to ween off from using the Oilsands, responsibility for the entire environmental issue spectrum is number one.

In general, the Canadian government needs to be much more prudent and responsible with what they do for the environment. Right now, we are witnessing the Canadian federal government focusing almost solely on the economy. Undoubtedly, improving the economy should be a top priority, but if the government made the environment as much of a top priority as the economy in terms of rigourous planning and investment, we would probably have a healthier economy, too. It comes down to not only the direct connections between environment and economy, but the intricate and infinite relationships between humans and the environment - ecosystem health. If the health of an ecosystem is optimal,  it leads to a healthier community and stronger performing economy. I strongly believe that a healthy environment is a healthy community and healthy economy. Higher ups in the government just overlook this.

What can you do? It's hard to deal with some upper level issues like this one, but citizens in Canada and around the world can and must just continue to voice themselves to press their governments to demonstrate more environmental conscientiousness. Don't quit trying if you care.

We must be responsible with this:

To protect this.


  1. Hi from Westcoast!

    I completely agree with you the government always sets everything else but the environment as a priority. They just deal with things that require immediate attention. I really do hope they go through with the implementation plans. I really enjoy reading your blog. I think I will start posting on environmental issues as well.

    Definitely won't quit trying! :)

  2. Hi Ivywan,

    Thank you for your comment - keep on doing what you strongly believe in and what you're passionate about!

    Stay tuned, I have some new ideas to share pretty soon.