Back in February 2012, the Federal and Alberta government’s Environment ministries announced a “world class” joint initiative to monitor the environmental impact of the Alberta Oilsands. The program was allocated $50 million per year to monitor the water, air, and animal habitats- funding was provided with money obtained from the Oilsands industry.
In August and September 2013, scientists from the federal Environment Ministry filled a plane filled with “sophisticated scientific instruments” and collected air quality data on 20 separate four-hour flights. The CBC reported that they “followed plumes of pollution from the oilsands as they headed downwind,” collecting data as air particulate turned into Secondary Organic Aerosols (SOAs)- pollutants created by a chemical reaction when floating particles interact with sunlight.
Almost three years later, the ministry finally published their results this week in the scientific journal Nature. Canadian journalists, unable to resist the temptation of a good Oilsands scare story, jumped on the report quicker than Elizabeth May on a bottle of extra strength Nyquil. The Globe and Mail warned that Oilsands dust is a “leading source” of air pollution, the CBC called it “huge”. But what the media didn’t tell their readers is that, from the perspective of SOA emissions, there’s a much dirtier oil on the market- and it’s proudly displayed on supermarket shelves across the country!