UPDATE 2-Canada vows stricter look at oil sands pollution

* Canada will design new monitoring system within 90 days

* Current oversight has significant drawbacks, panel says

* Panel says distrust will continue until problems solved
(Adds quotes, background)

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA, Dec 21 (BestGrowthStock) – Canada said on Tuesday it will
design a system to better monitor whether northern Alberta’s
huge oil sands projects are polluting waterways after an
independent scientific panel found major flaws in the current
monitoring system.

Environment Minister John Baird made the announcement after
the panel reported “there was no evidence of science leadership
to ensure that monitoring and research activities are planned
and performed in a coordinated way.”

Ottawa set up the scientific panel in September after an
academic report concluded oil sands plants were sending toxins,
including mercury, arsenic and lead, into the watershed. The
report also attacked the credibility of a government-supported
and industry-funded water-monitoring agency.

“For far too long we have heard concerns about the quality
of water downstream of the oil sands,” Baird told a news
conference, saying Ottawa and the Alberta provincial government
would design an effective water monitoring system within 90
days.

“We will then consult with a group of independent
scientists to ensure that the proposed design is appropriate
and then move immediately to implementation,” he said.

The panel’s report is not expected to have any immediate
impact on production in oil sands, the largest source of crude
outside Saudi Arabia.

The energy industry is pouring billions of dollars into
developing the oil sands, and argues it follows environmental
best practices. Environmentalists say the projects produce vast
amounts of greenhouse gases and toxic waste.

The panel said current problems include fragmentation of
the monitoring system as well as a lack of leadership and
coordination.

“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.

The panel stopped short of concluding that the oil sands
were polluting waters in Alberta. It also did not say further
development should be restricted.

Output from the region, the largest single source of U.S.
oil imports, is expected to about double to 3 million barrels a
day by 2020.

The extra production will come from new projects and the
expansion of existing facilities run by Royal Dutch Shell Plc
(RDSa.L: ), Total SA (TOTF.PA: ), Suncor Energy Inc (SU.TO: ), and
ConocoPhillips (COP.N: ) among others.

Nathan Lemphers of the Pembina Institute green group said
it was tough to know whether 90 days would be enough to design
a proper monitoring network.

“This is just an announcement. It’s important to keep that
in perspective,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

The panel was particularly critical of the Alberta
government’s current monitoring system, the Regional Aquatic
Monitoring Program, saying it suffered from a lack of
scientific leadership.

“It is not producing world-class scientific output in a
transparent, peer-reviewed format and it is not adequately
communicating its results to the scientific community or the
public,” the panel said.

Alberta announced on Monday a separate effort to create a
monitoring system that would complement federal efforts.

The minority federal Conservative government is firmly
behind the oil sands industry.

“At a time of economic instability, the jobs the resource
provides … are vital,” Baird said. “We can and we will
balance prosperity with stewardship.”

Last week a separate scientific report said governments and
regulators were lagging world standards in their ability to
oversee the oil sands and monitor their environmental impact.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway)

UPDATE 2-Canada vows stricter look at oil sands pollution