Oilsands report welcomed by Alta. minister

The Alberta government welcomes a Royal Society of Canada report that finds there is no credible evidence oilsands development is boosting cancer levels in northern Alberta.

The Alberta government has welcomed a Royal Society of Canada report that found there is no credible evidence that oilsands development is boosting cancer levels in northern Alberta.

"The report is constructive and a comprehensive look at Alberta's oilsands. It puts into the perspective the actual impacts of oilsands development," Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner said Wednesday.

But the report from the society's seven-member panel also conclude that the provincial and federal governments need to do more to monitor the industry, including making improvements to air and water monitoring.

It also calls Alberta's environmental review process "seriously deficient" in how it assesses the socio-economic and health impacts of projects.

"Our only motivation was to inform," said the chair of the panel, Steve Hrudey. "We're not trying to convince anybody of anything. We don't have an agenda to tell you that something is good or bad."

Hrudey said there is no evidence development is causing higher cancer rates among First Nations people in northern Alberta.

"The Athabasca River is not a toxic sewer, is nowhere close," he said. "It's a very clean river. There are no direct discharges of oilsands discharges to the Athabasca River."

Report validates criticisms: Greenpeace

But one of Alberta's most outspoken oilsands critics said the panel's findings validate what his group has been saying for years.

Mike Hudema of Greenpeace said the report offers proof the oilsands are growing without proper checks and balances from government.

"We think that the Alberta and federal governments need to take a step back, need to deny the approvals that would double tarsands expansion and quit approving new projects so that they can address the serious concerns that were raised in this report," he said.

Alberta New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley said, while carefully worded, the report is an indictment of the provincial government's record for managing the oilsands.

"It is clear that the government needs to substantially increase its resources in environmental monitoring if we have any hope of having this develop in a way that is not going to leave long-term health and safety and environmental liability for Albertans," she said.

"It's already happened and it's going to be worse if this government does not finally take its responsibility seriously."

Renner acknowledges the province could do more to assess the various effects of oilsands projects.

While thorough, the review process has focused more on environmental impacts, he said. Renner said he believes Alberta has enough staff to carry out monitoring, despite what the panel found.

Both the federal and Alberta governments have appointed panels of scientists to examine the issue of water monitoring in the oilsands.

With files from The Canadian Press