News that the Alberta oil sands will finally have some monitoring in place is welcome, though more will be needed, say the Greens. “We are finally moving from a negligent and illegal lack of monitoring to an improved monitoring system. It will be very important that the data collected be available for independent review until such time as the monitoring can be conducted by an independent party. Our sincere hope is that this monitoring plan will lead to enhanced clean-up plans and charges under federal law if illegal contamination continues to take place,” said Green Leader Elizabeth May.
Scientists have been increasingly concerned over toxic chemicals seeping into the Athabasca River. Studies have found high levels of arsenic, mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon in the watershed surrounding the tar sands. Downstream, the community of Fort Chipewyan has been suffering a 30% higher rate of cancer. This increase in cancer has been linked to the pollution finding its way into the river from tailings ponds upstream. Every barrel of oil produced requires up to six barrels of water, a lot of which ends up as wastewater in tailings ponds. These ponds are some of the largest manmade structures on the face of the planet.
The new monitoring plan will involve an increase in the number of monitoring sites and the types of chemicals scrutinized. Expected to cost around $50 million, the plan will be paid for by the industry.
“It is entirely appropriate that industry pay for the monitoring and clean-up of their operations,” said May. “Having independent scientists involved is very important as the placement of monitoring sites and the chemicals detected will determine if the results are useful. If the industry continues to insist that nothing is wrong and nothing changes, all we will know is that the monitoring system has failed yet again.”