Alberta needs oil sands monitoring agency - panel



The independent panel tasked with providing recommendations to the Government of Alberta on how to build an improved environmental monitoring system has submitted its report.

'It is essential that Albertans and the rest of the world have confidence that our environment is being protected and that development is occurring responsibly,' said Environment Minister Rob Renner, who received the report on June 30.

'In the spirit of transparency, I am releasing this report to the public in advance of an in-depth review by government. We thank the panel for their work to help advance our efforts to become a world leader in environmental monitoring.'

The panel's recommendations include the creation of an arm's-length monitoring commission, which would act as a science-driven, independent organization with internationally-recognized experts to design and maintain the system, beginning in the Lower Athabasca Region.

Additionally, the panel placed emphasis on the importance of Alberta's leadership role when working with federal counterparts to ensure there is no duplication of effort as it relates to monitoring activities.

Other recommendations include the creation of a publicly-accessible system for monitoring data and reporting, and increased Aboriginal input into the monitoring system design.

'Science must be the primary driver of all monitoring, evaluation and reporting activities in Alberta,' said panel co-chair Dr. Howard Tennant. 'The new monitoring system must adapt to environmental change, local and regional needs, evolving scientific knowledge and advances in technology.'

After being formed by Minister Renner in January 2011, the panel gathered input from public engagement sessions, consultation with First Nations and Métis communities in the Lower Athabasca region, and written submissions sent by interested individuals and organizations.

'Throughout our discussions with stakeholders, it quickly became evident how deeply Albertans care about the environment,' said panel co-chair Hal Kvisle.  'It is critical to the future of our province that we understand, acknowledge and mitigate the impacts of development.'

Alberta needs 'to organize and elevate the standards of environmental monitoring ... to achieve a really world-class, reputable standard',he added. 'To do that we've recommended the creation of an independent, science-focused agency.'

Jennifer Grant, director of the Pembina Institute's oilsands program, made the following statement in response to the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Panel's report:

'The environmental monitoring panel's recommendations are thorough. We urge the government to move swiftly to implement a new, more robust and transparent monitoring system.'

'More than 40 years after oilsands development started, Albertans have been told by numerous expert panels that environmental monitoring is insufficient. This is a matter of public trust and accountability and the government has a long way to go to restore public confidence that it is protecting the environment.

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