Commissioner slams oilsands monitoring

On October 4 Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development released a damning report on the federal government’s climate change and oilsands monitoring systems.

Scott Vaughan said decisions on oilsands developments were based on “incomplete poor or non-existent environmental protection.”

It’s a claim that doesn’t surprise Nathan Lemphers a senior policy analyst at the Pembina Institute. “It certainly provides confirmation on a number of our views. It’s really important to acknowledge where this report came from. It hasn’t come from just another environmental group it came from the office of the auditor general the federal government’s own watchdog.”

Although the report also commended the federal government for taking “an important step forward by both acknowledging the deficiencies of the current system and setting out a detailed plan to fix them” specifically in regards to improvements in the monitoring system Vaughan remains cautious.

“Certainly the management framework if implemented is a substantial step forward when it comes to responsible environmental management of the oilsands” he says. “However it’s far from being implemented. There’s still major concerns around funding and capacity for both the federal and provincial governments to carry out this monitoring program let alone having that data from that monitoring system come back and then inform management decisions.”

Chris Bourdeau a spokesperson for Alberta Environment says that’s a legitimate concern and that increased monitoring will cost more money. He says the department has been restructured in order to better address the cumulative impacts of oilsands development.

But he also acknowledges that Alberta has some lessons to learn. “A lot of the things that the commissioner recognized in his recommendations around the monitoring are things that we know here in Alberta. We have to step up our game.”