li-oilsands-mcmurray-620

A panel concludes more monitoring must be done to assess impact of oilsands on the watershed. (Canadian Press)

The province must do a better job of monitoring the impact of oilsands mining on water quality in northeastern Alberta, concludes a scientific panel.

Environment Minister Rob Renner appointed the six-member panel in September 2010 after a University of Alberta study concluded industry was responsible for increased levels of toxins in the Athabasca River, a claim contradicted by government scientists.

The panel reviewed two U of A studies, and one each from Alberta Environment and the oilsands industry.

It found industry and government monitoring is inadequate in determining the amount of toxins entering the environment.

"The Alberta Environment study included monitoring at a limited number of stations, and was not specifically intended to determine impacts from the oil sands operations," it said.

"The RAMP (Regional Aquatics Monitoring) program has many monitoring sites, but the low sampling frequency each year limits this program’s ability to determine impacts from oil sands operations."

The committee suggested much more work is needed to understand the effects of oil sands development on the environment.

Renner agreed the province needs a more comprehensive monitoring system to measure the impact of mining. 

"It's not just that we have to have more monitoring, but we have to have a more coordinated system for monitoring."

NDP critic Rachel Notley said Renner has known for years that the current system was lacking but did nothing about it.

"The minister can try to rewrite history, but the record shows that while the Tories barged ahead on development, their commitment to environmental protection was in spin only," said Notley.

The province is now waiting for the provincial monitoring panel, created in December 2010, to report back in June 2011. This panel will consider these results along with the Federal Oil Sands Advisory Panel report.