Representatives of the European Union came to Alberta on Monday seeking answers in the ongoing debate over the health and environmental impacts of the oilsands.
A delegation from the European Parliament, the legislative arm of the EU, met with provincial government leaders and is heading to northern Alberta on Tuesday for a firsthand look at the oilsands.
Delegate Antonyia Parvanova said the group is trying to sort out conflicting information.
"We noticed there is a disparity between the official data and what has been presented by the NGOs on water usage and C02 emissions," Parvanova told reporters after the meeting at the legislature.
"It's always better to have a closer look at the efforts that the government is doing and also the scientific efforts."
Parvanova said the research is part of a larger EU effort to reduce carbon emissions.
"As a general rule, members of the European Parliament support an environmentally friendly policy," she said.
"The environment is the priority in our decisions, especially when we try to find the right balance between growing the economy and public health."
European Parliament expressed concern over oilsands
The 12-member delegation met with Iris Evans, Alberta's intergovernmental relations minister, and Environment Minister Rob Renner.
Evans agreed that while the EU — comprising 27 member states representing half a billion people — is not a big oilsands customer, its influence is considerable and that other jurisdictions take their policy cues from it.
"Our fear is that if something happens in the EU and it spreads in other countries [that are] not even members of the EU, we could have a third of the world's population subscribing to legislation or regulation that mitigates against our oilsands," Evans told reporters after the meeting.
Earlier this year, the European Parliament passed a resolution expressing concern about the environmental and health effects of the oilsands.
The Alberta government has been fighting an ongoing public relations battle with environmental groups and critics who are urging oilsands customers to rethink the product.
They have been buttressed by a recent report from noted ecologist David Schindler, who found the levels of chemicals in water downstream from the oilsands are harming fish, some of which are turning up deformed or afflicted with large tumours.
Higher cancer rates have been found in residents in the downstream community of Fort Chipewyan, though a link to the oilsands has not been proven.
Provincial officials, meanwhile, have hosted delegations of U.S. lawmakers and high-profile environmental activists, such as Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron, on tours of the oilsands.
The government has also taken out ads in places like London's pricey Piccadilly Circus.
Evans said she went to Europe earlier this year, at the same time politicians there were discussing a film critical of the oilsands titled Dirty Oil.
"I'll be honest with you, when I was over there, I realized we have a big job to do," she said. "Many of them have an impression that we're just digging up all of northern Alberta, that it's one open mine."
Latest duck incident not discussed
On the weekend, Premier Ed Stelmach — who is in India this week meeting with energy officials — promised delegates at a Progressive Conservative Party convention that the government will continue the public relations fight, which he says is inflamed by interest groups and given oxygen by media fixated on stirring up confrontation.
The province's sales pitch took a blow last week when energy giant Syncrude revealed that 350 ducks had landed on one of its gooey toxic oilsands tailings ponds and had to be put down.
Renner told reporters the Europeans did not raise the ducks issue.
"Did you raise it?" he was asked.
Opposition NDP Leader Brian Mason said he wished the government was as concerned about the state of the oilsands as it is with how the oilsands are perceived.
"They really need to get serious about cleaning up the oilsands and imposing some deadlines on industry, so that the international black eye that has been created can actually be cleaned up," said Mason.
"Then, when international delegations come here, they will be much more impressed."