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Pembina Institute calls for independent science review of draft oilsands plan

Independent scientists should validate Lower Athabasca Regional Plan to ensure the regional environment will be protected and to restore trust in government oversight

5 Apr 2011

CALGARY, ALTA. - The Government of Alberta should commission an independent science panel to review its draft Lower Athabasca Regional Plan as part of the consultation process, the Pembina Institute said following the release of the draft plan Tuesday.

The draft plan requires an independent science review to ensure the limits and land use zones identified in the plan will achieve their stated outcomes. Given the history of environmental mismanagement in the region, an independent analysis of the plan would also help to restore the public's trust in government oversight in the oilsands.

"With this draft plan, the Government of Alberta has acknowledged that responsible oilsands development requires identifying and enforcing clear, science-based environmental limits and protecting ecologically sensitive areas," said Jennifer Grant, director of the Pembina Institute's oilsands program. "We remain concerned, however, that the current draft still prioritizes industry interests over science-based environmental protection."

Concerns remain

The Institute's early review suggests some elements of the plan are unacceptable. The plan fails to protect habitat for any woodland caribou herds in the Lower Athabasca; allows logging within some conservation areas; and fails to halt water withdrawals from the Athabasca River during low-flow periods. For other issues, such as air and water quality standards and the establishment of new protected areas, there is evidence of improvement but a lack of clarity around how rules will be implemented.

High stakes require greater transparency

The Government of Alberta claims to have engaged multiple stakeholders in drafting this plan, yet representatives elected by environmental groups were denied participation in the industry-dominated Regional Advisory Council. Some elements of the draft plan also appear to be substantially weaker than the council's recommendations to government, while many of those recommendations are absent or have implementation delayed for up to two years.

"Canadians expect world-class management of the oil sands, and the current draft plan doesn't get us there. The Governments of Alberta and Canada did the right thing in striking independent panels to review the adequacy of oil sands monitoring. The Alberta government must now continue on this path and ensure that an independent team of scientists reviews and improves the draft plan before cabinet approves it," said Grant. 

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Contact:

Jennifer Grant
Oilsands Program Director, Pembina Institute
Cell: 403-678-0449

Phone: 403-538-7781

Julia Kilpatrick (English / français)
Media Manager, Pembina Institute
Cell: 613-265-5579 
Phone: 613-216-1976 ext 30

Background:

The Alberta government's website includes information about the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan.

Posted April 6, 2011 by AEN

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