Canada, Alberta launch joint oil sands environmental monitoring portal

As part of their efforts to share environmental monitoring data related to the development of bituminous sands in the region, the governments of Alberta and Canada launched a joint online information portal on Monday.

The site launch occurred on Earth Day, just before a letter from the US Environmental Protection Agency [PDF: 1.5 MB] undermined an earlier State Department Report that had supported construction of the controversial XL Keystone Pipeline, which could move up to 830,000 barrels of Alberta oil sands crude per day into and through the US.

In a press release, Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent and Alberta’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen, lauded the potential of the interactive Web site to inform the public about the impacts of oil sands development on the natural environment.

“With this portal,” said Minister Kent, “our respective governments are actively encouraging informed discussions and analysis on the impacts of oil sands development based on high-quality scientific information.”

The environmental impact of oil sands development has driven controversy in both Canada and the US. In response, Canada and Alberta formed a joint oil sands monitoring effort, of which the data portal is a part. The $50 million per year joint data monitoring plan is partially funded by industry and aims to track and share information about air quality, water quality and wildlife changes over the more than 54,000 sq. mi. area of north and central Alberta around the “tar sands.”

Minister McQueen praises the site as part of her ministry’s ongoing efforts to protect the environment as the development of Alberta oil sands continues.

“By openly reporting on our data and our progress,” she says, “we are ensuring the rest of the world recognizes our commitment to responsible and sustainable resource development.”

Production of viable fuels from bituminous sands faces scrutiny from environmentalists because of its intense use of land, water and energy resources. Producers use mostly open pit mining to extract the hydrocarbon source from the earth and must refine the material into marketable forms. The “energy return on investment” for tar sands remains lower than many other sources of energy, meaning that, with current technology, it takes more energy to extract energy from bitumenous sand than other, more traditional, sources.

Proponents however, point to successes in remediation and reclamation to protect the environment, the positive economic impact of tar sands extraction, and a reduced dependency on oil and energy resources from other sources.

The interactive maps and links to visualized and summarized information complement the governments’ already existing resources so even laymen can learn more about the environmental impacts of tapping the area’s unconventional petroleum deposits.

The Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board estimates tar sands in the province hold nearly 170 billion barrels of recoverable natural bitumen reserves.

   

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