News Articles Featured | Canada.com | December 09, 2011
DURBAN, South Africa — Canada lacks "credible scientific information" to support its claims that oilsands development is environmentally responsible, putting the industry's economic future in jeopardy, says newly-released briefing material prepared for Environment Minister Peter Kent and senior management in his department.
The background notes, emailed to Environment Canada's top bureaucrat, Paul Boothe, cast doubt on the integrity of environmental assessments on new projects exploiting Alberta's natural bitumen deposits, also known as the oilsands.
They also noted that the regulatory shortcomings have left the industry ill-prepared to defend itself from foreign environmental policies, such as proposed climate legislation in Europe to reduce pollution from transportation fuels, as well as criticism on the international stage at events such as the global warming summit in this coastal resort town.
"National and international concern over the environmental footprint of oilsands production represents a growing threat to the economic future of the industry," said the briefing material, sent on June 4 by Assistant Deputy Minister Michael Keenan and released to Postmedia News on Thursday evening through access to information legislation. "Governments need to provide assurance that oilsands production is environmentally responsible in order to secure the industry's social license to operate."
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver drew criticism from environmental groups Thursday, for announcing the approval of a new oilsands project, in the midst of the Durban summit which was scheduled to wrap up on Friday.
Environment Canada has been working on improving its monitoring programs on impacts of development on land, air and water as part of a process launched by former minister Jim Prentice, in collaboration with Alberta.
Kent unveiled details of the plan in July, suggesting at the time that industry should be able to pick up the estimated $50 million annual costs since they were expected to generate $80 billion in the next year.
Dave Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an industry lobby group, had said he welcomed the prospect of better scientific information, but questioned whether industry should foot the bill since it is already picking up some monitoring costs.
Kent has also acknowledged the industry needs evidence from the monitoring program to defend itself, but suggested this week after arriving at the international climate change summit that the oilsands operations, which require huge amounts of land, water and energy to separate the synthetic crude from clay in the ground, are environmentally friendly.
"There is a disproportionate amount of criticism of the oilsands which is a responsibly and sustainably developed resource, of which we are proud," Kent said on Monday.
Separate briefing notes prepared on June 3, also suggested that Environment Canada bureaucrats were at odds with a government-wide lobbying campaign in partnership with industry stakeholders and the Alberta government, exposed in the media last year, to polish the oilsands' international reputation.
"Getting the science right is important," said the Environment Canada document. "We are committed to managing the environment in the oilsands based on science, not politics or PR."
The briefing notes also said Alberta and the federal government must work together "to provide assurance of environmentally-responsible production that the industry needs," for a number of priorities including the completion of environmental assessments on new projects.
"Implementing this new monitoring system is an urgent priority to head off threats to the industry, which needs credible scientific information on its environmental performance as soon as possible.
"Environment Canada also advised that the absence of scientific evidence supporting their claims was affecting the industry's ability to raise capital from and sell into (the) foreign market," in the face of low carbon fuel standards in Europe and the U.S.