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Government Panel Met With Criticism

Alberta oilsands pollution panel met with criticism



Former TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle poses with a painting of a pipeline in southern Alberta.

Former TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle poses with a painting of a pipeline in southern Alberta.

Photograph by: Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald

CALGARY - The provincial panel named Thursday to design a cure for Alberta's ailing oilsands pollution monitoring system is too heavy on industry and too light on scientists, critics charge.

The panel unveiled by Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner is co-chaired by Hal Kvisle, who retired as president and chief executive of oilsands pipeline company TransCanada Corp. last year but is still an adviser.

The company moves thousands of barrels per day of oilsands products to market and is currently seeking U.S. environmental approval for the $7-billion Keystone XL project to transport 500,000 bpd more bitumen to refiners on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The other co-chair is Howard Tennant, the former president and vice-chancellor of the University of Lethbridge.

The 10 remaining members of the panel include four science representatives, two health specialists and four members representing public policy, administration or industry.

"We were expecting a science panel with environmental scientists," said Julia Ko of the environmental group Water Matters Society of Alberta.

"But instead, it seems like the environmental scientists are outnumbered. Only three of the 10 people on the panel are environmental scientists with some actual monitoring in their background."

A series of reports have condemned the province's ability to detect land, air and water harm caused by its growing oilsands industry.

In December, a federal panel struck by former environment minister Jim Prentice concluded the Alberta system was flawed.

Earlier, University of Alberta biologist David Schindler published reports that noted oilsands plants were sending toxins such as mercury, arsenic and lead into the watershed, including the Athabasca River.

Schindler said Thursday the new panel has some very good scientists on it, as well as people whose role is a mystery to him.

"The science side, I've got no problems with," he said.

"The other guys, I sort of wonder how much they know about this subject but I guess we'll find out."

He added he thinks the aboriginal community at Fort McMurray should have been represented.

"It's time we started to rebuild some of the trust that has been lost with that community," Schindler said.

NDP MLA and environmental critic Rachel Notley said the panel's composition shows a clear bias to industry over the environment.

Renner said at a news conference in Calgary the 12-member panel will recommend a "first-rate environmental monitoring system" in northeastern Alberta that can be expanded throughout the province.

He defended Kvisle's appointment, insisting he can act as an independent panellist.

"No more impossible for him as anybody else. The fact is he is retired," said Renner to a reporter's question.

"The issue really comes down to using his expertise and organizational skills from the perspective of ensuring the system that is put in place is a practical system, a functional system."

Kvisle was delayed while travelling and unable to appear at the conference.

"This panel is committed to creating a system to measure the environmental impacts of oilsands activity in a professional and transparent manner," he said in a news release.

The panel has been directed to take into account the findings of the federal panel and another provincial panel appointed last fall that is to report in mid-February on why Schindler's data was so different from the official monitoring sources.

The new panel is to report by June but Renner couldn't say when the improved monitoring systems would be in place, saying only that it would be implemented gradually.

Environmental groups have called for a moratorium on new oilsands development until proper monitoring is in place.

In a recent report, Calgary energy investment firm Peters & Co. predicted capital spending on Alberta's oilsands could reach $180 billion over the next decade if oil prices are maintained.

Oilsands production has jumped to about 1.5 million barrels per day of bitumen and upgraded crude from 1.2 million barrels in 2008.

BMO Capital Markets has forecast $20 billion worth of investment in the oilsands this year, growing to $29.9 billion per year by 2015.


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