Alberta Tar Sands Cause Acid Rain
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Alta. oilsands cause acid rain
Report issued by environmental group warns of 'most destructive project on Earth'
Matthew Kruchak and James Wood, The StarPhoenix
Published: Saturday, February 16, 2008
Acid rain caused by Alberta oilsands production is pouring down on Saskatchewan and if governments don't take note, any oilsands development in this province will contribute to the "most destructive project on Earth," the Environmental Defence organization warns.
A report released Friday by the group says 70 per cent of the sulphur entering Alberta's air ends up in Saskatchewan. Acid rain is produced by the interaction between water, sulphur and nitrogen oxides.
"Acid rain causes damage and death to the ecosystem and also human health," said Christopher Hatch, a climate change campaigner with Environmental Defence. "People in Saskatchewan should be very concerned that neither the federal nor provincial governments are getting to the bottom of this.
"So what is it that they don't want people to know? There's obviously a problem -- any layperson can tell that. Why are they not funding studies to ensure human health?"
The report, titled Canada's Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth, outlines the environmental and human health effects of the oilsands and offers the federal government solutions, Hatch said.
"It's a toxic nightmare -- it really is," he said. "To fly over the Alberta oilsands as it is -- and it's only just beginning -- it's a toxic moonscape."
The group is calling on the federal government to step in and force the cleanup or work with the Alberta government to address environmental issues, he said.
In the past 12 years, at a Saskatchewan site (which was not identified) 200 kilometres downwind from the oilsands, the mean level of acid in precipitation had increased, the report stated, with measurements going from pH 5.3 to 4.1. Normal rainfall has a pH of 5.6.
Saskatchewan Environment ran 10 monitoring stations across the oilsands in the northwest of the province and found a buildup of nitrogen from Alberta, the report stated in a section called Raining Acid on Saskatchewan.
"On the toxic front, it's really a looming human health disaster," Hatch said.
Environment Minster Nancy Heppner had little to say about the report Friday.
Asked about the environmental impact of the Alberta oilsands projects, Heppner said she didn't have any details.
"I've heard things, that water's being contaminated and those sorts of things. I don't have any specifics. I haven't seen the report you are talking about today and obviously there's more information we'll be looking at to make sure that if there were mistakes made on the Alberta side that we won't be making those here," Heppner told reporters at the legislature just before leaving for a climate change conference in Australia.
However, she said the government is concerned about acid rain from the oilsands.
"I understand there's some concern and we've met with some people, some residents of northern Saskatchewan, who are concerned about acidification of our lakes and that's something we're going to look at," said Heppner.
NDP environment critic Sandra Morin questioned Heppner's lack of knowledge about the report.
Morin said "she had no reason to doubt" the report's characterization of the oilsands as "the most destructive project on Earth."
"It's incredibly distressing that 70 per cent of the acid rain, the contamination, is going to be affecting Saskatchewan. Clearly, with the development happening there and 70 per cent of those emissions affecting Saskatchewan people, one has to be concerned about the further development of the oilsands in Alberta, which is supposed to triple in the next 10 years, not to mention the further development of the oilsands projects that are happening in Saskatchewan."
The Saskatchewan Party government is supportive of oilsands projects in this province, but Heppner said the environment won't be sacrificed.
"We are committed as a government going forward with development to make sure the environment is protected. There are environmental impact assessments that are done for projects and that will certainly be the case going forward. We do not want our environment to be destroyed while we develop our province," she said.
Officials from the Ministry of Environment were unavailable for comment Friday.
A representative from Oilsands Quest, a company leading the development of the oilsands industry in Saskatchewan, was also unavailable for comment Friday.