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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – More than half of the Alberta oil sands are at risk of being found to be toxic, according to a study released on Monday by a Canadian government agency and a group of academics that is calling for tighter monitoring of the volatile oil sands.
The report by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the federal agency that assesses the environmental impacts of projects across Canada, recommends that more monitoring be done to ensure the oil sands are treated as clean when it comes to their potential to be contaminated with heavy metals and other toxic substances.
“Oil sands are highly concentrated and are at high risk from water, air and soil,” said the report, prepared for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a group representing scientists, academics and environmentalists.
“They are also concentrated far beyond what most people realize. As the industry continues to grow, the volume of this concentrated oil sands will only increase,” the report said.
The study was released after oil companies and the government agreed to monitor each other for potentially hazardous pollutants.
Environmental groups say they are concerned about the risk level of oil sands pollution compared to other sources of oil in Canada.
The group called on the oil and gas industry to take steps to reduce pollution at the oil sands — including using new technologies that eliminate the use of heavy chemicals, and cleaning up old oil pipelines — and for government agencies to use the data from oil cleanup events to update regulations.
“It’s not just about the environment, it’s about the economy,” said Mike Hudema, a senior policy adviser specializing in environmental law at Environment and Climate Change Canada, in a telephone interview. “If we don’t do something now to address the problem we’re going to continue to see it going forward.”
According to the report, 48 per cent of oil sands sites have been identified as being at high risk for industrial toxins and other contaminants, compared to 32 per cent for land-based heavy manufacturing units. It found 24 per cent of oil sands land is considered polluted.
The findings came from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s own research and were gathered in May and June when oil and gas companies in Canada and across North America were required to report on their industrial activities
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