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Scientists warn of the severe environmental consequences of Alberta's deep oil sands development

August 1, 2006

Fort McMurray, AB - In a report and interactive movie released today by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the Pembina Institute, scientists warn that projected development of Alberta's deep oil sands will drive many boreal wildlife species, including caribou, lynx, marten and some forest bird species to local extinction.

Today's 35-page report is the first assessment that fully quantifies the cumulative impact of Alberta's deep oil sands extraction on forests and wildlife. Although oil sands strip mining near Fort McMurray has received most of the attention to date, 80% of Alberta's oil sands reserves are too deep to be mined and must be extracted through in situ (in place) techniques.

With no public discussion, and without a plan in place to protect the forest, the Alberta Government has already leased out over 35,000 km2 of boreal forest for deep oil sands development - an area equal in size to Vancouver Island.

Dr. Rick Schneider of CPAWS, lead author of Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Impacts of In Situ Oil Sands Development on Alberta's Boreal Forest, says "When we began the report, our intention was to highlight industrial best practices as a solution to ecological concerns. But we found that gains through improvements to practices are eliminated by the projected massive increase in development. It now seems clear that the only real hope for maintaining biodiversity is to place a moratorium on out of control oil sands lease sales and to implement regional land use planning that limits the pace of development and includes the designation of large wildlife reserves where industrial activities are prohibited."

The authors found that the typical deep oil sands development—which is comprised of a network of roads, pipelines and well sites—cuts up the forest into small fragments that cannot sustain many wide-ranging species. The authors forecast that companies will clear nearly 300,000 hectares of forest and construct over 30,000 kilometres of road in the process of developing current leases, leaving 80% of the remaining forest within 250m of a road, pipeline or wellsite.

Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, co-author of the report, says "if the government doesn't set limits, deep oil sands development will cause even greater deforestation than the massive forest loss associated with oil sands mining".

The authors are calling on government to set limits on cumulative industrial impacts. "Providing industry with clear rules about how much disturbance is allowed will encourage them to work together to reduce their collective impacts and to reclaim and restore existing disturbances", says Dyer. "The Muskwa-Kechika plan from northern B.C. provides a good working example of how zoning land to protect different values and establishing limits on cumulative impact can effectively balance ecological and economic objectives".

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Dr Rick Schneider, a wildlife ecologist who has completed several studies of Alberta's forest management issues, is CPAWS-Edmonton's Conservation Director.

CPAWS is Canada's leading voice for parks and wilderness protection, with a network of 20,000 members and 13 chapters across Canada. CPAWS' Edmonton Chapter works to maintain biodiversity and wilderness in Alberta through the establishment of protected areas and implementation of industrial practices that sustain nature, communities and the economy.

Simon Dyer is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute. A wildlife biologist by training, he has worked on boreal forest issues in northeastern Alberta since 1999.

The Pembina Institute creates sustainable energy solutions through research, education advocacy and consulting. It provides policy research leadership and education on climate change, energy issues, green economics, energy efficiency and conservation, renewable energy and environmental governance.

For more information, contact:

In Calgary: Simon Dyer 403.269.3344 ext 104, cell 403.322.3937
In Edmonton: Dr Rick Schneider, 780.662.4233

Full report, deep oil sands video and high-resolution images posted at www.oilsandswatch.org, www.cpaws-edmonton.org, and www.pembina.org.

Posted August 2, 2006 by russ

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