Study says oil­sands as­sess­ments marred by in­con­sis­ten­cies

PressReader - BRUCE_CAROL_ROWE Channel - Study says oil­sands as­sess­ments marred by in­con­sis­ten­cies
Dozens of oil­sands en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact stud­ies are marred by in­con­sis­tent science that’s rarely sub­jected to in­de­pen­dent checks, said a univer­sity study.“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Adam Ford, who pub­lished his find­ings in the jour­nal En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­views.“You would have to go out of your way to make it this bad. It’s just a symp­tom of the state of the in­dus­try and it’s def­i­nitely a sig­nal that we can do bet­ter.”In 30 dif­fer­ent as­sess­ments filed be­tween 2004 and 2017, Ford found each study con­sid­ered dif­fer­ent fac­tors in dif­fer­ent ways. Few in­de­pen­dently checked their con­clu­sions. And those who did were no­tably less con­fi­dent about the in­dus­try’s abil­ity to re­store what it had dis­turbed.Ford said the in­con­sis­tent ap­proach means the re­sult­ing tens of thou­sands of pages piled in the of­fices of the Al­berta En­ergy Reg­u­la­tor re­veal lit­tle about the over­all health of one of the most heav­ily in­dus­tri­al­ized land­scapes in Canada.En­ergy com­pa­nies plan­ning to build oil­sands projects must file an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment. Such as­sess­ments gen­er­ally look at rep­re­sen­ta­tive species and con­sider, based on ex­pert opin­ion, how de­vel­op­ment would af­fect dif­fer­ent as­pects of their habi­tat.Ford found 35 dif­fer­ent species were stud­ied. Only one — moose — ap­peared in all 30 as­sess­ments. Only 10 ap­peared in more than half.Some as­sess­ments looked at species groups; some didn’t. Some dif­fered on their def­i­ni­tion of wildlife habi­tat.“You would think that projects that are that close to­gether, that are sim­i­lar in na­ture would have a more com­mon set of shared species,” he said.More­over, the ways used to eval­u­ate in­dus­trial im­pact were all dif­fer­ent. Some 316 dif­fer­ent math­e­mat­i­cal mod­els were used to mea­sure habi­tat and they came up with dif­fer­ent re­sults from each other 82 per cent of the time.Only 33 of the mod­els were in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied by field data or sep­a­rate sta­tis­ti­cal meth­ods. Ford found the as­sess­ments that used ver­i­fi­ca­tion were about twice as likely to project se­ri­ous lin­ger­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts.Since there’s so much vari­a­tion with so lit­tle check­ing, there’s no way to tell which as­sess­ments are more ac­cu­rate, Ford said.“Given the largely in­con­sis­tent ap­proaches used to mea­sure and rank ‘habi­tat,’ we have no ba­sis with which to mea­sure the per­for­mance, ac­cu­racy, or re­li­a­bil­ity of most habi­tat mod­els used in oil­sands (as­sess­ment),” the pa­per said.The stakes are high.Land dis­turbed by the 30 projects cov­ered nearly 900 square kilo­me­tres. About half of it was con­sid­ered high-qual­ity habi­tat.The pa­per also said that of the 1,681 oil­sands ap­pli­ca­tions made to the reg­u­la­tor since De­cem­ber 2013, 91 per cent were ap­proved.“It is not clear if or how re­port­ing neg­a­tive im­pacts on wildlife in an (as­sess­ment) has any bear­ing on project ap­proval,” it con­cluded.The Al­berta En­ergy Reg­u­la­tor de­clined to com­ment on the pa­per.Ford sug­gested stan­dard­ized oil­sands as­sess­ments would be faster, cheaper and more likely to pro­duce a clear pic­ture of what’s hap­pen­ing in north­ern Al­berta.“What are the species we need to know about? We have ex­perts in Canada who spend their en­tire lives think­ing about these species. Let’s get them in­volved so we can cre­ate ro­bust habi­tat mod­els, so that we don’t have to re­visit every­body’s in­di­vid­ual opin­ion.”Ford said the cur­rent ap­proach has real con­se­quences for real peo­ple.“There’s peo­ple who live on this land (whose) cul­ture and way of life is tied to those an­i­mals. And we’re telling them we’re pretty much mak­ing this up.”

Oil­sands en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact stud­ies are marred by in­con­sis­tent science that’s rarely sub­jected to in­de­pen­dent checks, ac­cord­ing to a new study.

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