EDMONTON, Alberta, April 26 (UPI) -- The governments of Canada and the province of Alberta have launched an online portal for monitoring the environmental effects of oil sands.
Information on the site includes maps of the region to be monitored covering 54,000 square miles and details on specific sites as well as data collected by federal and state government scientists and analysis of the findings.
"This will provide what the scientific community demanded of us years ago: a more comprehensive set of data to go beyond the speculation of how industrial development is impacting the environment and to show specifically what that impact and effect is," Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent said in a Toronto Star report.
"And where problems are detected or where danger levels are approached, it will encourage political action," Kent said.
The oil sands sector had already agreed to cover the $50 million annual cost of the program, Kent said, adding that invoices have been distributed.
Critics say oil from oil sands, also called tar sands, creates more greenhouse gas emissions and is more toxic to the environment than conventional crude oil.
While the portal was one of the steps of the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring announced last February, it comes amid heated debate over the Keystone XL pipeline as the Obama administration decides whether to allow the project, which would move oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast, to go forward.
"I think it will be helpful because it further demonstrates that Canada has a totally transparent regime in contrast to the countries from which the United States is, in many cases, importing its oil," said Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
Although it acknowledged the site was a positive development, Greenpeace said new tar sands projects shouldn't be approved until a rigorous environmental monitoring system is in place.
"Good data is better than bad data, but the important thing is that we use it to make better decisions," Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada was quoted as saying by the Epoch Times.
"This monitoring system is still a work in progress, yet new tar sands projects are being rushed through the assessment process before we know the real impact of existing operations."
Alberta Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Diana McQueen, noting that her province has legally binding limits for contaminants in the lower Athabasca region, said the monitoring initiative will help to ensure the sector stays within the limits "so that we can continue to grow the oil sands."
The portal can be accessed at: www.jointoilsandsmonitoring.ca.