Independent Scientists Needed on Athabasca River
The co-chair of last week's Keepers of the Athabasca conference has strong criticism for the governments of Canada and Alberta regarding the lack of monitoring around Alberta's oilsands, the lack of transparency on the monitoring that is done and the government's muzzling of internal scientists.
Dr. Harvey Scott, a former professor at the University of Alberta, says the governments both receive a "failing grade" in governing and protecting the Athabasca River.
"After a full day and a half of panels from respected scientists there is clear evidence that tar sand operations are polluting significantly the Athabasca River," Scott said. "Either the two senior levels of government are in denial, or they are being misinformed by their handlers. They have got to do better. They have got to be better informed."
In a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, Scott and fellow co-chair George Poitras of Mikisew Cree First Nation called on the governments to make all scientific data publically available and demanded that all government scientific research be peer-reviewed by a panel of independent scientists.
"Citizens do not trust the closed, non peer-reviewed contract, self-interested research results that your governments currently use to try to reassure us that all is well with our Athabasca Basin and water," the letter reads.
Scott said that having Environment Canada scientists involved in monitoring the river, and having their research peer-reviewed by scientists from universities, would go a long way in alleviating public distrust.
He also emphasized the necessity of governments allowing their scientists to speak publically without having their message vetoed by government communications officers.
"Gradually as (Stephen) Harper has seized power he's emasculated the federal scientific public services," Scott said. "The kind of projects they do, and the statements they make are now vetoed by the government's propaganda communications department. And it's the same thing in Alberta."
The Keepers of the Athabasca conference started with community meetings in Cold Lake, Lac La Biche and Athabasca, Alberta, from March 3-5, followed by a weekend workshop with a range of scientific experts in Athabasca, March 6-7.
Presenters included Dr. David Schindler, who spoke about his research confirming high levels of PACs in water downstream of oilsands operations, Dr. Kevin Timoney, who has studied the effects of oilsands pollution on downstream water sources, Dr. Susanne Bayley, an expert on wetland remediation, and Dr. Giles Wendling, a groundwater modeling expert who spoke about the effect of in situ mining on groundwater reserves.
Janice Pitman of Athabasca, one of the organizers, said people in her community are dealing with a different side of problems from oilsands development than people downstream.
The 'social' problems, as Pitman called them, involve plans to re-route the Tawatinaw River, which runs through the town of 2,500, and move 100-year-old buildings in order to build an industrial highway to Fort McMurray.
Pitman said the government has been planning the changes to the town of Athabasca for eight years without ever holding a public meeting about the issue.
"It's become the fashion to try and keep people in the dark and bully them," she said. "They are treating people in a very derogatory fashion. I think there are quite a lot of people who are starting to realize this. I don't think Canadians are comfortable being treated that way."