Federal Investigation Finds Site C Air Quality Monitors Turned Off

To celebrate Clean Air Day, June 8, the B.C. Government issued a press release celebrating the province’s air quality in the Peace region, home to extensive natural gas operations and Site C dam construction.

The press release, which praises the “successful partnership to ensure continued clean air in the Peace region,” came on the heels of a federal warning issued to BC Hydro for failing to turn on air quality monitors near Site C dam construction.

Federal investigators with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) discovered monitors near Site C operations, Tweet: #SiteC decides not to turn on air quality monitors #carbonmonoxide #nitrogendioxide #sulphurdioxide #bcpoliwhich measure total suspended particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide were not collecting any data.

CEAA compliance and enforcement chief Michel Vitou issued a warning letter to BC Hydro on May 26, saying the crown corporation “has been unable to monitor air quality effects in order to inform the appropriate authorities of exceedance of federal and provincial air quality standards.”

'Failed Experiment': Alberta Folds Oilsands Monitoring Agency

Tailings pond in Alberta oilsands

The Alberta government has shuttered its arm’s length environmental monitoring agency after a report concluded the program was a “failed experiment.”
Minister of Environment Shannon Phillips announced Tuesday the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) would be disbanded and environmental monitoring will return back to the government.

“It ensures government is directly accountable for environmental monitoring and that issues or gaps in monitoring are responded to immediately,” Phillips said at a press conference.

Phillip’s ministry commissioned a report that described the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency as overly expensive, poorly co-ordinated and plagued by bureaucratic bickering.

“It is hard to escape the conclusion that AEMERA is a failed experiment in outsourcing a core responsibility of government to an arm’s-length body,” wrote report author Paul Boothe, director of the Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management at Western University’s Ivey School of Business.

Oilsands Monitoring Programs Collecting But Not Using Data, Report Finds

Oilsands monitoring programs aren’t quite living up to expectations.

That was the conclusion presented by a six-person expert panel in Edmonton on February 22.

The two organizations that were examined — the Joint Canada-Alberta Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) and Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) — have improved in performance in recent years, according to the review.

But the organizations have largely failed at actually conducting analysis of the data collected about the four component areas: air, water, wildlife contaminants and toxicology, and biodiversity and land disturbance.

In addition, both JOSM and AEMERA have lacked clear mandates, a fact that has “severely hampered” success.

“The work of the Panel was made more challenging by the absence of an overarching document that clearly articulates the policy and scientific goals of the Governments of Canada and Alberta for oil sands monitoring,” according to the report, which was commissioned by AEMERA and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

What the NDP's Alberta Win Means for Energy and Climate Change

In a stunning and historic move, Alberta elected a majority New Democrat government on Tuesday.

The Progressive Conservatives, which finished in third place, consistently mismanaged the environmental and climate change file.

Ralph Klein, controversial premier from 1992 to 2006, despised the Kyoto Protocol and infamously flipped the bird at an activist who was protesting against a new Al-Pac pulp mill. Subsequent premiers often talked about improving environmental regulations, but seldom acted on it.

It’s yet to be known how different things will be under the NDP, but their win certainly marks a significant shift in sentiment.

Tar Sands Monitoring a Mystery One Year In

One year after plans were announced for a new system to monitor the environmental effects of the Alberta tar sands, there is still no sign of any formal data.

In February of 2012, the federal government, in partnership with the government of Alberta, announced plans for a new three-year environmental monitoring system to collect information on the Alberta tar sands. Touted as world-class by environment ministers at both the federal and provincial levels, the three-year plan is meant to track data on water, air, land and wildlife, and provide annual reports for the first three years, followed by a comprehensive peer review in 2015.

“We will make the system highly transparent. We will ensure that the scientific data that is collected from our monitoring and analysis is publicly available with common quality assurances and common practices in place,” Environment Minister Peter Kent said a year ago, at a joint news conference with Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen. 

The plans indicated that scientists would release information on an ongoing basis in some cases, and on three and six-month schedules in others. Officials anticipated the first round of information would be released before the end of last year.

Two Oil Spills in Alberta Due to Inadequate Monitoring

Companies responsible for two separate oil spills in Alberta failed to provide adequate oversight for their operations, according to federal government documents released by Environment Canada through Access to Information legislation.

The documents detail how Devon Canada and Gibson Energy violated environmental laws, including the federal Fisheries Act, when their operations cause two oil spills into fish-bearing waterways in 2010.

Gibson Energy, a midstream pipeline operator, spilled a few hundred litres of oil into an Edmonton creek after failing to properly abandon an unused pipeline. According to a warning letter issued to the company from Environment Canada, “Gibson Energy ULC made a business decision to keep the Kinder Morgan lateral full of crude oil and to not purge it with nitrogen.”

Canadian Scientists Must Speak Out Despite Consequence, Says Andrew Weaver

If people don’t speak out there will never be any change,” says the University of Victoria’s award-winning climate scientist Andrew Weaver. 

And the need for change in Canada, says Weaver, has never been more pressing.

“We have a crisis in Canada. That crisis is in terms of the development of information and the need for science to inform decision-making. We have replaced that with an ideological approach to decision-making, the selective use of whatever can be found to justify [policy decisions], and the suppression of scientific voices and science itself in terms of informing the development of that policy.”

Environment Canada Issues Warnings to Industry, Forgoes Prosecution, Documents Show

The federal government has repeatedly decided to forego prosecution for oil, gas and pipeline industry violations, according to Environment Canada documents released to Postmedia News through Access to Information legislation.

According to the documents the federal government issued 'warning letters' to companies like Devon Canada, a tar sands oil producer, and Gibson Energy, a midstream pipeline operator, after two separate oil spills proved the companies' respective facilities were in violation of the federal Fisheries Act. Violations of this sort can attract fines of up to $1 million, or three years imprisonment, the letters warned.

According to Postmedia's Mike De Souza, letters of this kind were sent to several companies in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec for various offenses including the pollution of air and water as well as inadequate emergency preparedness and shoddy record keeping.

Environment Canada indicated warning letters are effective in gaining industry's attention. Prosecutions, on the other hand, are both expensive and time consuming. Yet, the released documents suggest that when it comes to monitoring and enforcement of industry's actions, the government may not be acting in the public's interest.

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