Alberta Energy Regulator Aspires to Excellence – Admirable Goal is Difficult and Distant
November 23, 2015
In the lead-up to Paris climate talks and amid accusations of Canada exporting “dirty oil,” the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is wrapping up consultations in pursuit of excellence in regulation. Much of Canada’s petrochemical exports originate in Alberta, and every energy development – mining, drilling, fracking, flaring, transportation via pipes or trains, processing or refining – is under AER jurisdiction.
The AER aims to ensure “the efficient, safe, orderly and environmentally responsible development of oil, natural gas, coal and oil sands throughout the province for the benefit of all Albertans.”
How do we know that energy developments are indeed “safe” as claimed? The AER has no jurisdiction for human health, and Alberta is famed for a chill against the medical community linking ill health to petrochemicals. To connect the dots, researchers first need publicly accessible data about environmental quality (air, water, earth, food), health, socio-economic factors and so on. This data must be sufficiently fine-grained and in formats easily meshed to see trends and conduct research. In an absence of evidence, how could the AER and Albertans possibly respond?
Only with data will “common knowledge” and anecdote become “fact.” For example, during and following the Peace River Proceeding on health effects of bitumen emissions, community members identified that as novel extraction facilities and emissions increased, more and more children required special help in school, such as speech therapy. Is this in fact true, that neurotoxins such as reduced sulphur compounds (RSCs) and hydrocarbons from bitumen are harming the children? School boards didn’t give “special needs” data to parents, and whatever educators may have discovered is not public.
Academic researchers are raising concerns. American researchers found higher rates of blood cancers downwind of extraction and processing in the Alberta “Industrial Heartland.” Recently, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics published a consensus that children born “pre-polluted” with these industrial toxicants develop poorly and are more prone to cancers.
Data-driven evidence and decisions are only as good as the numbers, and the AER relies principally on proponent-supplied laboratory results. The only commercial lab conducting specialist analyses for companies closed unexpectedly and abruptly in 2014. Coincidentally, that sudden shuttering took place one week after disclosure to the AER Peace River Proceeding of a “Canadian Detection Limit Policy” to maximize detection limits “to protect our clients’ interests.” This followed years of academic work finding industry-related polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) downstream and in lakes, versus government and industry-sponsored research (e.g. Suncor-sponsored, using the now-closed laboratory) finding that PAHs more likely arise from natural weathering.
Key messages to the AER include:
- Prove the claims of human and environmental health and safety, with high quality data on all relevant chemicals, plus health and environmental data
- The oil patch employs many out-of-province workers. When they get sick, they don’t come back. Is Alberta exporting ill health?
- Set standards for AB environmental analytical laboratories, and only use data from reliable labs
- Forbid long distance transportation of dilbit – “detox” and upgrade bitumen
Prevent Cancer Now is a Canadian national civil society organization including scientists, health professionals and citizens working to stop cancer before it starts, through education and advocacy to eliminate preventable causes of cancer.
For further information please contact:
Meg Sears, PhD
Co-chair and science advisor, Prevent Cancer Now