Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Ditch oilsands monitoring group"

Ditch oilsands monitoring group

Edmonton Journal February 3, 2011

Imagine your boss gave you a job evaluation where you only passed one category out of nine. You would probably be packing up your desk or laying down your tools.

But not if your job was to monitor the impact of the oilsands on rivers and lakes. In that case, you'd be allowed to "adjust" your performance in the future.

That pretty much is what happened this week after an independent scientific review of the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program. RAMP is a quasi-private group of government, industry and other stakeholders that keeps an eye on the water systems downstream from industry in northeast Alberta. The much-anticipated review discovered that of nine objectives, RAMP met only one, partially met another, failed to meet four more and there's not enough information to judge progress on the final three. The one thing RAMP did do was "conduct a periodic peer review of the program's objectives" but it failed in its most basic task to adequately monitor aquatic environments in the oilsands.

In short, the review determined that RAMP is simply not up to the job of detecting any environmental impact caused by industry.

The conclusions should not come as a big surprise, given the recent litany of reports warning that we have too little oversight in the oilsands, warnings that have been followed by earnest government promises to do better.

Viewed in that light, the new report on RAMP is almost superfluous. We know there's a problem. The Alberta and federal governments seem to be racing each other to fix it.

What's unique about RAMP is that for years it has been the government's first line of defence against claims the oilsands are polluting the environment. And for years it has been called a sham by experts such as David Schindler at the University of Alberta.

Last August, Schindler offered a new study with compelling evidence that the oilsands do indeed elevate levels of heavy metals and other contaminants in the river system. At the time he repeated his complaints against RAMP, saying the government was placing too much faith in an organization that seemed wilfully blind, an organization that was in fact heavily criticized by a federal government review in 2004.

What's most troubling is that the Alberta government continues to rely on RAMP's questionable system when approving new oilsands projects. We have a disconnect between the government's insistence that it will fix the system and its continued reliance on a system that is clearly broken.

"It's time to get rid of RAMP altogether, replace it with a professionally designed and run monitoring program," was Schindler's advice last year.

It's time the government listened.
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal


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