* Canada to monitor air and water quality, biodiversity
* Canada hopes plan will speed approval of key pipeline
* Oil sands output set to double by 2020; greens worried
(Adds reaction from green groups, funding for agency cut)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, July 21 Canada will boost monitoring of
pollution from its oil sands projects, hoping to speed up U.S.
approval of a pipeline to transport crude to the Gulf Coast,
Environment Minister Peter Kent said on Thursday.
Green groups have long campaigned against developing the
oil sands of northern Alberta -- the world's third largest
petroleum reserve -- on the grounds that development produces
unacceptable amounts of greenhouse gases and other toxins.
Kent unveiled a C$50 million ($53 million) a year plan to
start monitoring air and water quality in northern Alberta as
well as the effects of oil sands development on biodiversity.
"It will provide the facts and the science to defend the
product, which some abroad are threatening to boycott. There is
already a great deal of disinformation and misinformation,"
Kent told a news conference.
Output from the oil sands is set to double to 3 million
barrels per day by 2020.
Opposition in the United States is mounting to TransCanada
Corp's (TRP.TO) planned $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which
would carry 700,000 barrels of crude a day. Greens say moving
so much oil could put a major aquifer in the central U.S.
states at risk of contamination in the event of spills.
The U.S. State Department has said it expects to make a
decision on whether to approve the pipeline by the end of the
Kent said the extra monitoring data would "prove to the
world that this great resource is being developed in a
responsible and a sustainable and constantly improving way".
Asked whether he thought the plan might therefore go some
way to speeding up the U.S. approval process, Kent replied:
"The short answer is yes."
Critics say Canada's Conservative government -- a vocal
backer of the oil sands -- is far too beholden to the energy
industry and puts too little emphasis on protecting the
The Montreal Gazette said on Thursday that Ottawa would
slash funding for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency,
which assesses the potential impact of proposed mines and other
Kent said the drop-off in funding for the agency reflected
the end of government cash for particular projects, saying
Ottawa would "provide adequate funding so that none of its core
work is compromised".
Ottawa says oil from the oil sands will help the United
States cut supplies from less democratic nations.
Kent said the intention of the monitoring plan was "not to
prosecute the industry. It's to identify problems and to fix
He said Ottawa would work with the government of Alberta,
which says it is serious about monitoring the operations of the
industry, its biggest revenue generator. Alberta has formed its
own panel to study the issue of water pollution.
"The federal government clearly isn't interested protecting
the environment in Alberta, or seriously addressing climate
change. Their primary concern is protecting profits of big oil
and stemming bad PR," said John Bennett of Sierra Club Canada.
(With additional reporting by Jeffrey Jones in Calgary)