"Pitched battles are a regular occurrence in northern Alberta, Canada, as development of the province’s oil sands continues to expand. One ongoing battle — with another salvo launched in February 2011 with the leak of a European Commission report — concerns how dirty oil sands are, relative to other fuels. Another concerns the influence of the oil sands industry in monitoring its own activity. In an effort to cut through the rhetoric of health advocates, industry representatives, environmentalists, government officials, and local residents, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) selected and covered expenses for an expert panel to winnow out the facts.
In a report issued 15 December 20103 the panel cited substantial evidence that efforts to extract oil from the Alberta deposits have degraded air, land, and water quality to varying degrees. The extent of the degradation is sometimes controversial; water quality data, in particular, are subject to differing interpretations and attributions of causality. However, the panel says that, based on publicly available evidence, there appear to be no significant human health threats to the general population either now or from development anticipated in the next decade or so.
But the panel also warns that their conclusions come with a major caveat: there are major gaps in health and environmental data, risk assessments, government oversight, information transparency, industry efforts, and disaster preparedness. The health of the region could hinge on these gaps being addressed, particularly since, according to Travis Davies, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, 97% of projected oil extraction and processing is still to come."
Bob Weinhold reports for Environmental Health Perspectives March 1, 2011.