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Canada to Boost Efforts to Monitor Oil-Sands Pollution

Canada and the province of Alberta will expand monitoring and increase air and water testing at oil-sands operations as the projects attract record investment and greater environmental scrutiny.

“We will be monitoring in more places, more frequently,” federal Environment Minister Peter Kent said at a press briefing in Edmonton, Alberta today. “We will make the system highly transparent,” he said.

Detecting cumulative environmental impacts and coordinating provincial and federal government efforts are key elements of the program, according to a copy of the joint implementation plan. The program will cost as much as C$50 million ($50 million) annually to implement in the first three years, according to the report.

A panel which included former TransCanada Corp. Chief Executive Officer Hal Kvisle, was appointed in January 2011 by the provincial government to make recommendations on how to improve efforts to track pollution caused by oil-sands development. The advisers made 20 recommendations, including the establishment of a new monitoring system and a publicly-accessible data-management program.

Data collected from the program will aid governments’ and the industry’s environmental policy making, Kent said. The program will be reviewed every five years by scientists and academics, he said.

Right Track

“They’re on the right track,” Jennifer Grant, oil-sands program director at the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank and consultancy, said in an interview today. “Only if monitoring is credible and free of political spin will it help improve the negative image of the oil sands.”

Exxon Mobil Corp. and Suncor Energy Inc. are among the companies extracting bitumen from the province’s oil sands. Energy producers have invested C$123 billion in Canada’s oil sands since 1997, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute. CERI estimates that these companies will invest a further C$137 billion by 2020 to tap into the 173 billion barrels of estimated reserves.

Bitumen mining creates toxic waste ponds and causes the destruction of forests and animal habitats, in addition to increasing greenhouse-gas emissions, the Pembina Institute said in a report in 2011.

“A world-class environmental monitoring system will contribute to improved performance reporting, regional planning and industry-performance improvement as the oil-sands industry continues to grow,” Dave Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an industry lobby group, said in an e-mailed statement.

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