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Ottawa, Alberta blamed for lax oil-sands oversight

Syncrude's oil sands plant at Mildred Lake, north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and

Federal and provincial governments have contributed to public distrust of the oil sands by failing to properly monitor the environmental impacts, a high-level panel says.

In a report released Tuesday, a high-level oil-sands advisory review panel said the two governments need to rebuild regulatory oversight of the massive energy projects.

"Until this situation is fixed, there will continue to be uncertainty and public distrust in the environmental performance of the oil sands industry and government oversight," it said.

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The panel, appointed by former environment minister Jim Prentice, is the latest to point out the serious shortcomings in regulatory oversight.

The new environment minister, John Baird, said Ottawa accepts the recommendations of the report and will act to build a "gold standard" monitoring system.

"If there are costs, we will find a way to make it happen," he said, adding that the government generally supports a "polluter pays" principle.

Last week, the Royal Society of Canada said the two governments have failed to keep up with the booming development along the Athabasca River in northeastern Alberta.

Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner announced Monday that he will appoint a new panel to advise his government how to build a "world-class" monitoring, review and evaluation system.

In the federal report, the panel said there should be a "shared governance" approach, with Environment Canada taking the lead.

"There is clearly a lack of leadership and co-ordination," panel chair Elizabeth Dowdeswell said.

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The report urged governments to devote significant new funding to assess the environmental impacts of the oil-sands development, primarily paid for by the oil companies.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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