Impacts of oil sands development on environment are not understood

(Chapter 2—Assessing Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil Sands Projects—October 2011 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development)

Ottawa, 4 October 2011—A lack of environmental information and monitoring has hindered the government’s ability to understand how oil sands projects in northern Alberta have cumulatively affected environmental conditions there, says Scott Vaughan, federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his report tabled today in the House of Commons. The audit focused on the Alberta oil sands because of the high concentration of major development projects in the region.

“When there are several development projects in the same region, it’s important to understand their combined impacts on the environment and how to minimize them,” said Mr. Vaughan. “Failure to prevent environmental impacts from the start can lead to significant problems down the road.”

The audit found that decisions about the oil sands projects have been based on incomplete, poor, or non-existent environmental information. The government’s understanding of changing environmental conditions in northern Alberta has been hampered by a lack of baseline information on conditions in the surrounding ecosystems and inadequate environmental monitoring systems. The government’s own scientists have acknowledged that impacts on water quantity and quality, fish and fish habitat, land, air and wildlife are not fully known.

The Oil Sands Advisory Panel established by the government in 2010 reported that the many efforts at environmental monitoring had failed to add up to a credible system. In response, the government committed to establish, with its partners, a world-class environmental monitoring system for the lower Athabasca River basin.

“This monitoring is critically important,” said Mr. Vaughan. “The government appears to have the right plan in place. It now needs to follow through and deliver.”

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The chapter “Assessing Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil Sands Projects” is available on the Office of the Auditor General of Canada website.

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