Seems like everybody is talking about the new report from the Royal Society of Canada on the Oil Sands mines of Alberta. Here is a link to the complete document. You must read it all if you wish to claim a place at the discussion table. For you can be sure debate and denial will continues to characterize the response to this report. That is primarily because the balanced report does not come out with an outright condemnation of the oil sands industry as the nattering-nabobs would have it. Instead the report concludes as follows–I repeat a few of its findings:
- Feasibility of reclamation and adequacy of financial security: Reclamation is not keeping pace with the rate of land disturbance but research indicates that sustainable reclamation is achievable and ultimately should be able to support traditional land use. Current practices for obtaining financial security for reclamation liability leave Alberta vulnerable to major financial risks.
- Impacts of oil sands contaminants on downstream residents: There is currently no credible evidence of environmental contamination from oil sands reaching Fort Chipweyan at levels expected to cause elevated human cancer rates.
- Impacts of regional water quality and groundwater quantity: Current evidence on water quality impacts on the Athabasca River system suggests that oil sands development activities are not a current threat to aquatic ecosystem viability.
- Tailings pond operation and reclamation: Technologies for improved tailings management are emerging but the rate of improvement has not prevented a growing inventory of tailings ponds. Reclamation and management options for wet landscapes derived from tailings ponds have been researched but are not adequately demonstrated.
- Environmental regulatory performance. The environmental regulatory capacity of the Alberta and Canadian Governments does not appear to have kept pace with the rapid growth of the oi sands industry over the past decade. The EIA process relied upon by decision-makers to determine whether oil sands projects are in the public interest has serious deficiencies in relation to international best practice.
The remaining 438 pages of the report provides the details.
It will be fascinating to see the outcome of this report. I know there is a request for proposals on the street and the RFP asks the bidder to come up with a cradle-to-grave solution. This project may help but will probably not as the topic is so broad and so contentious that nobody can solve it alone or even in the year provided for the project. Then there are rumblings of taking oversight away from ERCB–politics as usual. Then there is a promise to share technology amongst the industry on how to address tailings issues stemming from Directive 74. A consultant’s nightmare. And so on.
Regardless, this report sheds a much more sober light on the industry than the shrill declamations of those viscerally opposed to mining. We need more like it. But also and obviously we need more action from all parties involved. Maybe the second decade of this century will be the time.
PS. Having written the above, I looked at blogs that criticize the report. The first quibble is: they did not consider if we need the oil in the first place. To which I reply: I am glad I do not have to maintain a horse and carriage, and do not have to live in a city full of horse shit.
The second quibble is: they failed to take account of traditional knowledge. To which I reply: traditional knowledge and religion are much the same, maybe good for making you feel good, but useless in the face of disease, guns, pollution, and the need to eat. Traditional knowledge has left them sick, impoverished, and victims to charlatans and inflated declamations of vapid content.
There is much blog discussion of failure of government. With this I concur. I have met, talked to, and listened to many oil sands regulators. They are pusillanimous. But I doubt there are better out there. Why would you work for the government when you can earn an oil sands industry income?
And that is the rub. There will always be a shortage of people of high qualifications to do the work. Although I know many who are not working in the USA. Strange. Maybe we should increase immigration—except that would mean we need more oil and further dilute the claim of First Nations to the land and the right to kill one hundred birds for a simple supper.
That is the issue: We all want a quick and easy oil-based trip home and we all want a good dinner once we get home. Let us hope this report advances a good trip home and a good dinner to more, even though a few will choke on their inflated First Nation Chief salaries–paid by money earned in non-traditional ways.