Environment Canada scientists have observed evidence of toxic contamination of wildlife upstream from Alberta’s natural bitumen deposits that coincides with the oilsands industry’s expansion, Environment Minister Peter Kent was told. (via Mercury contaminating bird eggs in oilsands region: Environment Canada)
- According to internal documents obtained by Postmedia News, the government was urged to investigate recent scientific observations of a 40 per cent increase of mercury in bird eggs, considered to be a key environmental indicator of contamination of the natural ecosystems.
- “Environment Canada has already undertaken contaminants monitoring in wildlife and that work is continuing,” said an internal document outlining the government’s communications plan for the launch of its oilsands monitoring initiative from last July. “We have seen an increased exposure of mercury in bird eggs which is why more research is required to evaluate trends and sources of the contamination.”
- The advice, released through access to information legislation, followed peer-reviewed research, led by Environment Canada scientist Craig Hebert, that reported a 40 per cent increase of mercury levels in California gull eggs from a Lake Athabasca colony between 1977 and 2009 — a period of significant growth for the oilsands industry. Hebert’s research said that “contamination from oilsands development (was) one possibility, but other external (mercury) sources must also be considered.”
- When asked about the warnings, Kent said the government had “great concerns” about mercury contamination in all its forms, while noting that there was conflicting research about what was happening in the region. But he indicated the new federal monitoring plan, in partnership with the Alberta government, would examine all impacts of the oilsands industry on water, air and biodiversity in the region’s ecosystems.
- He explained some recently announced federal cuts to scientific research on industry’s environmental footprint, including the Experimental Lakes Area which allowed scientists to examine impacts of human activity on watersheds and lakes, are part of a shift of government resources toward Western Canada.
- Kent noted that the research at the Experimental Lakes Area, “greatly aided development of the acid rain treaty (with the United States) 21 years ago, but we haven’t got the same sort of accumulated deep and broad data that we need from the oilsands.”
- “So as part of our oilsands monitoring, a lot of our science is now going to move westward to continue that same sort of work in accumulating the same sorts of scientific data.”
- The federal government estimated last summer that its new oilsands monitoring program would cost about $50 million per year, but Kent indicated, at the time,he expected the industry to cover the costs.
- Kent also urged NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who visited the oilsands on Thursday, to keep an open mind about the industry and region, and consider all factors — including the impact of natural seepage of bitumen into the Athabasca River watershed for centuries.
- “Open-pit mines are not attractive in any context, anywhere in the world,” Kent said after delivering a speech at a fish-and-wildlife conservation conference. “But where they can be responsibly remediated, they can be responsibly developed.”
- Kent said he hoped Mulcair would consider points of view from both the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental think-tank that has suggested some aspects of oilsands expansion are hurting the Canadian economy, as well as the Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a think-tank that touted the benefits of expansion of Canada’s oil and gas industry.
There’s always two sides to any story: independent research, and industry-sponsored researched. :)