After several months of delay, the federal and Alberta governments have finally followed through on their promise to release tar sands monitoring data to the general public. The Canada-Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Monitoring Information Portal came online Monday in time for Earth Day.
The portal aims to provide information on air, water, wildlife contaminants and biodiversity. It includes an interactive map with links to monitoring activities all over the province. The site will use satellite measurements to estimate emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide but it will not provide data on carbon emissions.
Environment Minister Peter Kent touted the website’s launch as evidence that Canada is contributing and doing its part to protect the environment.
“With this portal, our respective governments are actively encouraging informed discussions and analysis on the impacts of oil sands development based on high-quality scientific information.”
Documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act indicate that Environment Canada was telling the Assembly of First Nations one story and industry groups another in the run-up to the introduction of last year’s controversial Bill C-38, purposefully working to dispel First Nations’ fears regarding changes to the environmental reviews, even as it was seeking support from industry to make huge revisions to that process.
A brieffor a January 24th meeting with National Chief Shaun Atleo and a delegation of chiefs from across Canada encouraged the ministers in attendance, including Minister of Environment Peter Kent, to play up the government’s willingness to work with First Nations on environmental concerns and downplay fears of sweeping changes to legislation.
It stated, “Any changes to the government’s environmental assessment or project approvals regime that you may have heard of through the media are (i) speculative at this point as legislation has not been introduced to the House of Commons; (ii) will respect our duties toward Aboriginal peoples.”
This message is a stark contrast to the scenario brief for a February 2nd meeting between Environment Canada representative Michelle Rempel and Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) VP Bill Clapperton, which indicated the Ministry of Environment was already working toward the sweeping changes to the environmental assessment process.
The Harper government knew in early 2012 that proposed regulatory reforms tabled in the contentious Omnibus Budget Bill C-38 would be "very controversial." As a result a parliamentary secretary to the minister of Environment Canada was directed to seek the cooperation of a major tar sands developer, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), regarding the proposed changes, saying "the reforms, when introduced, may be very controversial. I hope we can count on your support."
Companies responsible for two separate oil spills in Alberta failed to provide adequate oversight for their operations, according to federal government documents released by Environment Canada through Access to Information legislation.
The documents detail how Devon Canada and Gibson Energy violated environmental laws, including the federal Fisheries Act, when their operations cause two oil spills into fish-bearing waterways in 2010.
Gibson Energy, a midstream pipeline operator, spilled a few hundred litres of oil into an Edmonton creek after failing to properly abandon an unused pipeline. According to a warning letter issued to the company from Environment Canada, "Gibson Energy ULC made a business decision to keep the Kinder Morgan lateral full of crude oil and to not purge it with nitrogen."
The federal government has repeatedly decided to forego prosecution for oil, gas and pipeline industry violations, according to Environment Canada documents released to Postmedia News through Access to Information legislation.
According to the documents the federal government issued 'warning letters' to companies like Devon Canada, a tar sands oil producer, and Gibson Energy, a midstream pipeline operator, after two separate oil spills proved the companies' respective facilities were in violation of the federal Fisheries Act. Violations of this sort can attract fines of up to $1 million, or three years imprisonment, the letters warned.
According to Postmedia's Mike De Souza, letters of this kind were sent to several companies in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec for various offenses including the pollution of air and water as well as inadequate emergency preparedness and shoddy record keeping.
Environment Canada indicated warning letters are effective in gaining industry's attention. Prosecutions, on the other hand, are both expensive and time consuming. Yet, the released documents suggest that when it comes to monitoring and enforcement of industry's actions, the government may not be acting in the public's interest.
Kent has repeatedly denied that the government is muzzling scientists. But according to the documents, Kent’s office clearly muzzled Environment Canada researcher David Tarasick, preventing him from speaking to a number of media outlets about an unprecedented hole that appeared in the ozone layer above the Arctic in 2011.
According to Munro, “the documents also say Kent’s office and the Privy Council Office, which reports to the prime minister, decide when and if Environment Canada scientists are allowed to brief the media about anything from wildlife to water quality."
Why would the Minister of the Environment block public discussion of scientific work that may be important for the health and safety of Canadians and their environment?
Senior scientist Derek Muir, who presented some of the findings at Wednesday's conference, said the contaminated region is "potentially larger than we might have anticipated." The 'legacy' of chemicals in lake sediment gives evidence that tar sands pollution has been traveling long distances for decades. Samples show the build up of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, known to cause cancer in humans and to be toxic to aquatic animals, in 6 remote and undisturbed lakes up to 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations.
The pollutants are "petrogenic" in nature, meaning they are petroleum derived, and have steadily and dramatically increased since the 1970s, showing the contaminant levels "seem to parallel the development of the oilsands industry," Muir said.
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Check out our CRY WOLF series to learn about the scandalous attack on wildlife to cover the tracks of the industries destroying habitat for oil and gas and timber, another symptom of the unethical oil addiction blocking action on climate and energy solutions.