Alberta needs oil sands monitoring agency - panel

Tue Jul 5, 2011 6:17pm EDT

 * Panel calls for independent oil sands monitor
 * Panel makes 20 recommendations for improved monitoring
 * Province to speed review of recommendations
 CALGARY, Alberta, July 5 (Reuters) - The Canadian province
of Alberta should establish an independent agency to monitor
pollution from its oil sands developments, a panel appointed by
the Alberta government said in a report released on Tuesday.
 The Alberta Environmental Monitoring Panel -- formed in
January when questions emerged over the quality of
environmental reporting in the oil sands -- said existing
monitoring systems were not integrated and unable to assess the
cumulative effects of oil sands production on the environment.
 Alberta needs "to organize and elevate the standards of
environmental monitoring ... to achieve a really world-class,
reputable standard", Hal Kvisle, a former chief executive of
TransCanada Corp (TRP.TO) and co-chair of the panel, told a
news conference.
 "To do that we've recommended the creation of an
independent, science-focused agency."
 The proposed Alberta Environmental Monitoring Commission
would be at arm's length from the provincial government and
responsible for environmental monitoring for the oil sands and
the rest of Alberta.
 The tar sands of northern Alberta are the third largest oil
reserve in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Output
from the region is set to double to 3 million barrels per day
by 2020 as oil companies invest billions of dollars to tap the
 The oil sands are also a growing source of greenhouse gas,
and waste ponds at mining projects are toxic to wildlife. A
study last year coauthored by University of Alberta biologist
David Schindler found that oil sands plants were sending toxins
including mercury, arsenic and lead into the watershed.
 Schindler criticized work by the government-supported and
industry-funded Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, which has
said pollution in the Athabasca River system occurs naturally.
 Subsequent reviews by a federal panel found there were
significant weaknesses in the monitoring system.
 The Alberta panel made 20 recommendations to improve that
monitoring. The provincial government has yet to review the
 "Some of the recommendations ... have significant
implications that need to be looked at very closely," Alberta
environment minister Rob Renner said. "It's imperative we
undertake a rigorous review."
 Renner did not say when he expected the review to be
 (Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Dale Hudson)