Alberta shuts oil sands environmental monitoring agency

The Canadian province of Alberta is shutting its environmental monitoring agency, created two years ago under the Conservatives, and it will move work back to the government after a review called the arm’s-length body a “failed experiment.”

“Government is responsible for government business, including monitoring, which has an effect on public health and public safety,” Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said earlier this week.

She noted that responsibility for monitoring the oil sands will be now under her department.

The agency's former chairman, Lorne Taylor, told CBC News the move came as a total surprise. He called the change "a house of cards that will collapse under scrutiny and the pressure of local communities and stakeholders."

Monitoring the oil sands will be now Alberta's government responsibility.

According to Taylor, a government-led monitoring system can’t be based on a foundation of independence and transparency.

Paul Boothe, director of the Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management at Western University's Ivey School of Business and author of the report that triggered the minister’s decision disagrees.

"It is hard to escape the conclusion that AEMERA is a failed experiment in outsourcing a core responsibility of government to an arm's-length body," he wrote.

"Three years and tens of millions of dollars later, the results are an organization that is still struggling to get established, dysfunctional relationships with its two key partners … and a failure of all three parties to realize the promise of the … plan to bring critically needed, world-class environmental monitoring to Alberta's oil sands."

According to CBC, AEMERA claims Booth is in conflict of interest because he was with Environment Canada when the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program was in place.

The Alberta budget will be announced on April 14 and the province expects the new monitoring system to be operational by this summer.