Ottawa urged to beef up oil sands enforcement

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A trio of environmental groups called on Ottawa on Wednesday to beef up enforcement of legislation in the Alberta oil sands, saying unchecked development is harming Canada’s international reputation.

In a report, Environmental Defense, Equiterre and the Pembina Institute said lax federal standards and poor policing are causing inter-provincial friction as well.

“Despite occasional ‘tough talk’ and vague statements about the need for improvements, the federal government has failed to meets its responsibility to enforce existing federal laws and to follow through on promises for new ones,” the groups said in the report, entitled “Duty calls: Federal responsibility in Canada’s oil sands.”

The oil sands represent the largest crude deposits outside the Middle East, and are a growing source of U.S. oil supply. As the industry has worked to expand markets, environmentalists have bolstered campaigns to warn of the impact on air, land, water and local communities.

The industry has said it is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve environmental performance in areas such as water use and tailings pond reduction.

The study urged more stringent enforcement of federal environmental assessment, endangered species and fisheries laws as well as binding caps on air pollution in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

It acknowledged Environment Minister Jim Prentice’s move three weeks ago to form a scientific panel to study the quality of water monitoring for the Athabasca River in Alberta’s oil sands region, following questions about the reliability of a government-supported, industry-funded monitoring program.

But it said that the government had been largely absent in dealing with environmental issues surrounding the oil sands.

“By allowing the oil sands problems to grow in the absence of clear limits to protect the environment, the federal government is instead setting up the industry for even greater controversy and risk in the future,” the report said.

Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Rob Wilson