Scientist apologizes to oilsands researchers

A scientist who works for the Alberta government has sent a letter to two scientists apologizing for calling their research "a lie."

A scientist who works for the Alberta government has apologized to two scientists for calling their research "a lie."

Dr. Preston McEachern, an environmental effects biologist who works for the government of Alberta, issued a letter of apology and retraction to Kevin Timoney, a researcher with Treeline Ecological Research, and Peter Lee, executive director with Global Forest Watch Canada.

Timoney's and Lee's lawyer had contacted him after he said in a presentation at the University of Alberta in March that the two "chose to remove data" from a study about the environmental impact of the oilsands, and called their findings a "lie."

"You did not lie," McEachern wrote. "You did not choose to remove data from your study. You did not actually remove data from 1985, 2003 and 2004. The statements in my presentation that you did these things were false and I regret very much that I made these statements. I unequivocally retract them."

Timoney and Lee published the study "Does the Alberta Tar Sands Industry Pollute? The Scientific Evidence," which suggested the physical and ecological changes that result from oilsands industrial activities are detectable.

One of the conclusions in the study is that the ecological and health effects of these activities deserve immediate and systematic study.

McEachern's claims that data was removed from the study were published on three industry websites.

Timoney said McEachern's comments could have damaged their reputations as scientists. 

"It can be terribly damaging not only to your reputation — and your reputation is everything as a scientist — but also it hurts because it was an untrue set of statements that he made," said Timoney. "We, Peter and I, endeavour to do honest and reliable work. You do your best and then somebody comes along and says something like that."

Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace, said McEachern's comments against the researchers are an example of the Province of Alberta defending the reputation of the oilsands against findings of their degenerative impact.

"This is a concrete example of an employee of the government of Alberta trying to undermine the credibility of experts whose studies expose important concerns about the tarsands industry to the public," Hudema said in a news release. "The government of Alberta seems more concerned about the reputation of the tarsands industry than it is about learning about the destructive and dangerous impacts this industry has."

In addition to a letter of apology, McEachern will pay legal costs for Lee and Timoney and make sure the presentation is removed from websites hosting it.