Six scientists have been named to a provincial panel that will compare water monitoring data around the oilsands mines in northern Alberta.
Academics from universities in Canada and the United States — Peter Dillon, George Dixon, Charles Driscoll, Stuart Hurlbert, John Giesy and Jerome Nriagu — will look at data derived from academic and government studies.
The announcement comes one week after Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice appointed a six-person panel of his own to look at oilsands water monitoring.
But Alberta's Environment Minister Rob Renner thinks there's nothing wrong with having two panels.
"We have a situation right now that is confusing," Renner said. "It's confusing to me. It's confusing to Albertans where we have eminently qualified scientists that are coming to different conclusions with respect to environmental impact. If that is something that can be rectified, I want to know."
Study links Athabasca toxins to oilsands
Three of the panelists were recommended by University of Alberta water scientist David Schindler. A study co-authored by Schindler and published in late August linked high levels of toxic pollutants such as mercury and cadmium in the Athabasca River to nearby oilsands mining.
Renner's panel is expected to release a report in February. But the federal panel is expected to make recommendations in 60 days, leading Schindler to question why two panels need to answer the same questions.
"I really think that can be done by the federal panel," he said. "I doubt whether, if we're going to wait until February for the provincial panel to report, whether there will be time to get that all in place for 2011 so we'll effectively lose another year."
The provincial panel is a result of a promise from Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach who said the province would compare data from Schindler's study to data from the joint industry-government group that currently monitors water around the oilsands mines.
The group — known as the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program or RAMP — has said that elevated toxin levels in the river come from substances that occur naturally in the environment, since the water runs through oilsands deposits.
The scientists on the panel are:
- Peter Dillon, professor in environmental and resources studies and chemistry, director of the Water Quality Centre at Trent Univeristy.
- George Dixon, vice-president of research and professor of biology at the University of Waterloo.
- Charles Driscoll, professor of environmental systems engineering at Syracuse University in New York State.
- Stuart Hurlbert, professor emeritus at San Diego State University and director of the Centre for Inland Waters.
- John Giesy, ecotoxicologist in the department of veterinary biomedical sciences and toxicology centre at the University of Saskatchewan.
- Jerome Nriagu, professor in the school of public health and research professor in the Centre for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan.