Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Waterloo studies find little long-distance environmental impact from oil sands development

The study area from one of the papers.
As the elevator told me this morning, two studies from the University of Waterloo have reported little water and air pollution downwind/stream from the oil sands. In this study they found no increased levels of "airborne metals" (like tiny microscopic airplanes, I assume) in the Peace-Athabasca Delta 200 km north, and in this paper they found that according to lake-bed cores various heavy metal contaminants had decreased since the onset of oilsands development.

The study was funded by Suncor, and was of course disputed by other scientists and environmentalists, the line between the two being pretty blurry in some cases. Peter Lee and Kevin Timoney, of Global Forest Watch Canada, said the data was too limited and the study area too small. Presumably they believe their more holistic and somewhat alarming paper on the subject is a better view on the matter.

My view is, what's the complication here? The lake-cores they're doing are clearly pretty easy to do and the heavy metal testing nothing special, so why has it taken so long to do them? If Suncor and other operators think people like Lee and Timoney are exaggerating the long-distance environmental impact of the oil sands, which I think is certainly possible, why don't they spend the money and demonstrate that? This testing is peanuts compared to the sums the oil sands companies are used to spending, or the amount they stand to lose if activists manage to inaccurately and unfairly smear the industry. 

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