Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Alberta government oil sands monitor

Alberta environmental minister Diana McQueen.
Picture stolen from the Edmonton Journal.

A number of big news outlets have reported on the new provincial body to monitor the environmental impact of oil sands. The body is tentatively called the Alberta Environment Management Agency and will be jointly funded by industry and government. It will be headed by Howard Tennant, a former University of Lethbridge president who headed a report that ultimately led to the agency's creation, and report to the environmental minister, Diana McQueen. Despite his protestations in that link, Mr Tennant is a scientist but teaches classes in management, to generally positive reviews.

While everyone seems to agree more independent monitoring is necessary, there are some questions about this new body. Its funding model hasn't been nailed down, and it could take up to 5 years to get running "at full capacity". The NDP predictably threw in some half baked criticism about it not being independent and releasing "massaged data", despite any data being years away.

My position? The fact that there are still funding issues on this seems nuts to me. Maintaining the environment and the public perception of the industry's stewardship of the environment is a critical issue to the future of the oil sands. Getting this wrong could cost billions of dollars in the long run. Not having good data to combat the arguments of environmental groups more than willing to run loose and fast with the facts could lead to stupid things happening.

As for the NDP, I think they should ask this Rachel Notley character to be in the agency. Maybe she'd be willing to actually try to improve things, rather than taking shallow potshots at her opponents - let her try to put the constructive back into her criticism.

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