In this May 21, 2019 file photo, Premier Jason Kenney and Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks chat before the speech from the throne is delivered in Edmonton. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Scientists criticize Alberta’s monitoring suspension, lack of consultation

Permanent holes in monitoring record

EDMONTON — Shutting down a broad range of Alberta’s environmental monitoring over pandemic fears wasn’t necessary, says the head of a group responsible for such work.

Most monitoring could have been done safely, says Jay White, president of the licence-granting Alberta Society of Professional Biologists.

“We’re trained to deal with dangerous, toxic biological hazards in our day-to-day work,” White said Monday. “The virus is no different.”

Alberta’s own chief scientist says he wasn’t consulted before the government temporarily shut down much land, air and water-monitoring requirements in the oil and gas industry in what it said was an attempt to keep workers and communities safe from COVID-19.

“Nothing came to me,” said Fred Wrona.

“The process at the (Alberta Energy Regulator), that was done by their organization. I didn’t see any of that.

“I think being more inclusive … certainly including my office, would have been useful.”

Government spokespeople have said it has been too risky to move people into and out of the field, find places for them to stay and keep them and their contacts safe.

White, who said he was speaking as head of his consulting company and not on behalf of the professional society and its 2,000 members, said ways could have been found if the people who do the work had been asked.

“Take two trucks instead of one. We’re out in the field. We’re widely spread apart. If we’re within that two-metre zone, we wear a mask. We make sure we’ve got hand-sanitizer kits in all the vehicles.”

It should have been up to the people who actually do the work to decide how safe it is, he said.

“Most if not all of our work could be done with PPE protective controls. If there can’t be … controls, then you don’t do the work. But that would be left up to us.”

The suspensions will mean permanent holes in Alberta’s monitoring record, White said.

“We’ve already missed snowpack analysis. We’ve already missed the spring freshet (runoff surge). That’s going to be a data gap for 2020.”

Wrona said the suspensions won’t necessarily harm Alberta’s ability to track changes in its air, water and soil.

“I didn’t believe that the types of things that were being discussed in the short term would have a significant implication for us looking at long-term changes in environmental status and trends,” he said.

“I felt that we were still OK with our data integrity. That, of course, depends on how long the suspensions occur.”

Wrona said it’s normal for long-term datasets to include changes and adjustments to how information is collected. Much monitoring still goes on, he said, but he advises more consultation in the future.

“We should … maybe be out of the gate a little more proactively in terms of communication and discussions,” he said. ”Get input from the various organizations and communities.”

The Environment and Energy ministries, as well as the regulator, have been widely criticized over the suspensions.

Three First Nations have requested a regulatory appeal of the decision, saying their treaty rights were violated because they weren’t consulted. Three other Indigenous groups, as well as several environmental groups, have asked the federal government to force Alberta to resume the work.

Alberta Environment has said the suspensions could be lifted as soon as Aug. 15, if two ministerial orders are allowed to expire.

White said the suspensions are damaging private sector biologists like himself and his colleagues, whom Albertans rely on to ensure industry lives up to its environmental promises.

For many companies, the suspensions have cost anywhere from half to all of their business, said White.

“Most of us … have seen impacts. Folks have decreased staff. There are people laid off or on indefinite leave.”

The economic blow is increasing an Alberta brain drain already underway, White suggested.

“We have already lost expertise.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2020.

AlbertaEnvironment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

BREAKING: Ponoka kidnapping suspect at large, two others charged

Charges laid against three individuals after Sept. 7 incident

COVID-19: Central zone cases down to 32 Wednesday

No active cases in some central Alberta communities

PHOTOS: High School Rodeo action

AHRA D2 Battle River High School Rodeo was held at in Ponoka Sept. 12 and 13

Active cases down in central zone Tuesday

No active cases in some local municipalities

Notley to stay on as Alberta NDP leader for 2023 provincial election

The NDP took almost all of Edmonton but few seats outside of the city

B.C., Alberta sending nearly 300 fire personnel by Friday to help battle wildfires in Oregon

Some 230 firefighters, most from British Columbia but including a number from Alberta, will be deployed Friday

Death of mother grizzly a ‘big loss’ for bear population in Banff park: experts

The bear, known as No. 143, spent most of her time in the backcountry of Banff

U.S.-Canadian border closure reportedly could extend through November

The border between the two countries has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21

Threat of fall federal election eases as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Congeniality emerged as fears of second wave of COVID-19 were heightened after another case increase

Intoxicated male arrested by Ponoka RCMP passes away after fall

Incident remains under investigation by ASIRT

Breton RCMP activate Search and Rescue to locate four overdue adults

Four adults found safely near the North Saskatchewan River.

‘Everything comfy’: Fashion brands drop heels, officewear to COVID-proof collections

Gone are the days when retailers would advertise formal wear, suits or gowns

Most Read