EDMONTON — Alberta has released a 20-year plan intended to give its oilsands developments a cleaner environmental image around the globe, but the strategy is light on specifics.
The government report calls for action to reduce emissions, curb fresh water use and cut tailings produced by oilsands projects. But the 50-page document offers no details on how measures to achieve these goals would be enforced.
Greenpeace was quick to pan the document, saying other nations will "not be fooled" by a plan that is "completely void of details.
"It has absolutely no timelines and no actual targets," said Greenpeace activist Mike Hudema. "It seems to be more of a public relations ploy than a real strategy that's going to stop the incredible environmental damage caused by the tarsands."
Hudema said the strategy relies heavily on Alberta's previously announced plan to spend $2 billion finding ways to capture and store carbon emissions. But he said the technology is largely unproven.
"There's no talk of increased enforcement or monitoring within this plan, so we're really left with a strategy that continues to let Big Oil monitor itself."
While Greenpeace was unhappy, a major representative of the industry applauded the report.
Don Thompson, president of the Oilsands Developers Group, dismissed criticism that the report lacked detail. He said the province's $2-billion investment in carbon capture is "leading around the world and something that should be applauded."
Alberta has been feeling global pressure to clean up the oilsands, which have been labelled by several nations as a source of "dirty" oil. The frantic pace of development in recent years has also created a severe shortage of housing, infrastructure and skilled workers in northern Alberta.
Even former Tory premier Peter Lougheed has been a critic of the rapid development, calling for a less frantic pace of construction.
The report acknowledges the heat the industry has been under.
"Increased global focus on the environment has put energy development and Alberta's oilsands under a spotlight," it reads.
But a plan to reduce emissions is vague and there's no indication it would improve on Alberta's existing strategy to allow total oilsands emissions to continue increasing until 2020 before gradual reductions start to take place over several decades.
The report says the energy industry should be required "to use best available technology" that is "economically achievable."
The fine print doesn't cast much more light when it explains that this "refers to technology that can achieve superior performances and has been demonstrated to be economically feasible."
On the social and infrastructure front, the report suggests major oilsands companies should be required to help plan and finance infrastructure projects, including transportation networks.
The document says the province needs to "identify social and infrastructure needs associated with oilsands development." It calls for planners to take into account the "shadow population" of people living in trailers, campgrounds and even tents around Fort McMurray because they can't find homes.
There's also a section dealing with how energy companies need to develop better relationships with local aboriginal communities, which have been highly critical of oilsands pollution.
The report calls for more consultation with First Nations "to understand the potential cumulative environmental impacts." It also says a pilot project is needed to "obtain baseline data to measure how cumulative impacts of development may impact Metis lands."
Alberta's energy regulator issued a directive last week that will require oilsands producers to clean up dozens of giant tailings ponds over several decades. The lake-sized toxic sludge pits made headlines around the world last April when 500 ducks landed on them and died.
The report says Alberta should require "reclamation of tailings to occur at the same rate or faster than production of new tailings on a regional basis."
Several points deal with curbing the huge volumes of fresh water used during the processing of tar-like bitumen, but the report sets no clear goals or targets.
"Maximize water conservation, efficiency and productivity in the mineable oilsands sector to the lowest water use achievable," it says. "Identify the amount of fresh water and saline groundwater available in the oilsands regions to ensure water supplies are managed sustainably."