Canada’s environmental protection idle

Canada’s environmental protection idle by Paul Hanley, Februay 12, 2013, The Star Pheonix
Are Idle No More and other green activists uninformed when they say Canada’s environmental protection standards are inadequate? Are they paranoid when they say massive resource developments threaten the well-being of future generations? Not according to Canada’s Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development, who works with the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. The Commissioner’s 2012 audit of federal environmental policy found that environmental protection is not keeping pace with the rush to develop Canada’s resources. More than 600 major resource projects representing $650 billion in new investments are underway or planned across the country in the next 10 years, yet environmental protection is actually being scaled back.

“Idle Some More” could be the motto for environmental protection in this country. While government propaganda contends that resource developments are safe and carefully assessed and monitored, the Commissioner reports, for example, that, “Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the department responsible for resource development in the North, was not conducting the required inspections that are essential for ensuring that the terms and conditions of project approvals are being met.” … Government projects an image of being on top of environmental protection, but the Commissioner’s objective assessment indicates that, in many cases, it doesn’t even know what is happening. On the issue of hydraulic fracking, for instance, we are repeatedly told it is a safe practice that’s been around for 60 years and has never caused problems. But how would they know?

Federal officials told the Commissioner that fracking is “an emerging issue that they are only now starting to investigate.” “On average,” the Commissioner reports, “fracturing a shale gas well requires 11 million litres of water” and up to “220,000 litres of chemicals per well.” “Currently, oil and gas exploration and drilling activities are exempt from reporting pollutant releases to Environment Canada.” While federal departments have “developed a partial list of more than 800 substances known to be used or suspected to be used for hydraulic fracturing … the departments have not carried out risk assessments on the use of these substances for hydraulic fracturing …”

While one estimate puts the number of wells at more than 200,000, the fact is “comprehensive data is not available” so even the number of fracked wells is not known. Clearly, the government is clueless about the impacts of fracking. In fact, “According to the government,” says the Commissioner, “until it has a better understanding of hydraulic fracturing” it doesn’t even know “whether risk assessments and control measures are warranted.”

When there is an accident, the public, not the oil companies, will pay the bulk of the cost. Meanwhile, the commissioner says we still pay billions in subsidies to the highly profitable fossil fuel sector.
While the level of subsidy is declining, tax incentives alone have amounted to more than $3 billion over the past five years.

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