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Clarkson University Scientist Weighs in on Alberta Oil Sands Review

The important question that needs to be answered regarding the $50 million environmental monitoring program for the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, is “Will they really build an integrated, adaptive and effective program?” says Philip K. Hopke of Clarkson University.

Philip K. HopkeDirector of the Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science (CARES) at Clarkson, Hopke led a panel of six scientists charged with reviewing the scientific rigor of monitoring the environment around this third largest proven reserve of oil in the world.

While the Joint Canada-Alberta Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) has made “significant advances” since being established in 2012, it has a lot of work to do before the data it has collected can be useful in creating a strategy, Hopke notes.

The external review panel delivered its final report to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA), last week. The scientists noted that the monitoring program has not fully analyzed the data it collected, lacks a documented quality assurance process, and didn't make information easily understandable for the public.

Hopke gave the monitoring program a grade of "B," understanding that the province and federal government had to pull numerous existing monitoring programs together under one umbrella in a short time frame.

"They made good progress, but there's clearly more work to be done,” Hopke said. “It's hard to know if you hit the target, when you haven't defined what the target is. What is it you want the monitoring to do?"

JOSM collected considerable data regarding air, water, wildlife contaminants and eco-toxicology, and biodiversity and land disturbance. That information must now translate into goals and policies, Hopke says. Responsibility for monitoring has been shifted to AEMERA.

“If we know what kind of changes they see as important, we can then develop strategies on measurements to make and make decisions,” he says. “There are some fairly straightforward, inexpensive things they can do that will enhance the research they've already done. For example, our panel suggested an annual science meeting to hear what the other groups are doing. We're hopeful this report will lead to clear planning for next five, 10 and 20 years.”

The review panel's report is available at

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, N.Y., and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, New York, Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

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