Straight Outta Edmonton: Overhauling RAMP

For 13 years, the Alberta Government has relied on the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) to assess the impact of the oilsands. From resource development to environment, RAMP plays a significant role in developing provincial policy.

2004 RAMP Peer Review:

  • “Reviewers reported serious problems related to scientific leadership and a lack of integration and consistency across components with respect to approach, design, implementation, and analysis.”
  • “lack of details of methods, failure to describe rationales for program changes, examples of inappropriate statistical analysis, and unsupported conclusions.”
  • “No ability within RAMP to assess oil sands development impacts on the Athabasca River in an integrated way.”

2010 RAMP Peer Review:

  • “The reviewers believe the existing program does not successfully address the three key questions posed in (the review goal) section: the present program is not sufficient to detect changes if they occur; the present program cannot sufficiently identify potential sources resulting in the change(s) if changes are detected; and not all of the appropriate questions are being asked by the RAMP program and appropriate criteria being monitored to answer those questions.”

Although many have questioned RAMP’s scientific validity, generally along the same lines as the program’s two external peer reviews linked above, the Alberta Government did not act on these criticisms until two academic studies published by Dr. Erin Kelly and Dr. David Schindler. The studies, published in 2009 and 2010, documented high levels of oilsands industrial pollutants, including PACs (carcinogens) and heavy metals, being discharged into the Athabasca River Basin.

The studies contradicted RAMP, which claimed industrial pollutants were negligible and environmental toxins were naturally occurring, and as a result, federal and provincial panels were struck to investigate the contradictions. The federal panel examined the scientific validity of RAMP and reported in late December that the criticisms leveled against it were accurate — the program was utterly incompetent and was unable to adequately assess the environmental impact of the oilsands.

Before the provincial panel reported its results (scheduled for release February), Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner announced that RAMP would be overhauled to ensure that the province would have a competent, science based oilsands environmental monitoring program. However, the oversight committee charged with creating the new program came under attack, as critics slammed the appointment of more industry representatives than scientists, the lack of aboriginal inclusion, and the selection of Hal Kvisle as co-chair (many question Kvisle’s lack of scientific credentials, ‘unique’ environmental conservation perspective, and support of lax regulatory standards for industry).

Although it’s too early to speculate whether the Alberta Government is sincere in its commitment to create a competent oilsands monitoring program, history and the province’s initial steps indicate that it will have to do more than just promise an overhaul, but actually demonstrate it — externally.

More on RAMP:

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Democratic Progress: Polygamy

Today’s G&M argues that “[b]arring polygamy remains a reasonable limit on religious freedom and a potent reminder that the law must protect the vulnerable and the equality rights and human dignity of women and children”.  Their evidence is that the fo…

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