Alberta needs oil sands monitoring agency - panel
* 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 resource.
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 report.
"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 completed. (Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Dale Hudson)
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