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Alberta Oil Sands: Scientific Research

Honourable Senators, I rise today to shine some attention on a recent series in the Financial Post entitled the "Thirteenth annual Junk Science Week event." This series of articles highlights and exposes the numerous "scientists, NGOs, activists, politicians, journalists, media outlets, cranks and quacks" who bend facts, exacerbate risks, and by and large warp science with the goal of advancing an agenda.

While science, statistics and research are fundamental cornerstones of our economy and our society, one must always be dubious of what one reads. As American statesman Henry Clay once noted, "Statistics are no substitute for judgment." This series highlights this reality.

Unfortunately, I do not have the time to cover some of the interesting pieces on the dangers of lipstick, rubber ducks and apples that, one way or another, may be killing us. However, one of the themes that stood out in a few of the pieces was the constant vilification of our oil sands.

Honourable senators, I believe there is much more at play here than simple scientific fact. In a well-laid-out article, Vivian Krause examined the fallout resulting from a report on pollutants near oil sands projects. As Krause pointed out, this was a case of "how bad media happened to good science."

The CBC reported: "Oil sands adding carcinogens to Athabasca River."

The Globe and Mail reported that some levels for the protection of aquatic life exceeded those recommended by the provincial and federal governments. However, no mention was made of the reality that no drinking water guidelines for any of the pollutants were exceeded. In fact, the main author of the study said he would drink the water himself.

Other conclusions that went conveniently unreported include that in some instances, contaminants were higher in areas far from oil sands operations; that in many places, contaminants were below detection levels; and that there were basically no surprises in the results as they lined up with industry monitoring.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit ignored was how the study was funded. Most of the $500,000 price tag was covered by Tides Canada and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, both vehement critics of the oil sands. In fact, the Tides foundation finances at least 30 groups that target the oil sands. Furthermore, many organizations that channel funds to the Tides foundation do so with the explicit goal of slowing the expansion and demand for Canadian oil.

The proposed Keystone Pipeline is another example of a project being repeatedly attacked with false facts and embellished claims of a supposed unavoidable environmental disaster if built.

Honourable senators, science is at the backbone of our economy, yet in the past "science" has told us many things that are absurd today. One must always be diligent and skeptical, especially when our economic well-being is at the heart of the issue.