Prof Shares Water Expertise in National Oilsands Report

December 15, 2010 - News Release

A University of Guelph professor is among a group of leading Canadian scientists whose report released today examines health and environmental impacts of the Alberta oil sands.

Prof. Glen Van Der Kraak, Integrative Biology, is one of seven experts from across the country selected by the Royal Society of Canada to review evidence about health and environmental impacts of the oil sands and to identify areas for more research.

Van Der Kraak is a leading researcher in water contamination and ecosystem impacts. In numerous research projects, he has looked at how chemicals in water affect fish health and reproduction.

He was chosen to examine the impact of the oil sands on regional water supply and quality, and the management of toxic waste water.

“In the end, the report concludes that, beyond the concerns levied against the oil sands operators, the Alberta and Canadian governments have not kept pace with respect to the environmental regulatory capacity and they will be stretched to the limit given the expected further expansion of the oil sands operations,” he said.

In the report, Van Der Kraak said current industrial water-use demands do not threaten the viability of the Athabasca River, whose water is drawn for oil sands development activities. But he stressed that a water management framework developed to protect in-stream ecosystem flow must be fully implemented and enforced to protect the regional water supply.

He found no current threat to the river’s water quality but said concerns about the existing regional aquatics monitoring program must be addressed.

Van Der Kraak also investigated tailings ponds, which hold toxic waste water from oil sands extraction. Despite new technologies for better tailings management, he said, the number of ponds continues to grow. Reclamation and management options for the wetlands that will be derived from tailings ponds have been studied but have not been adequately demonstrated.

“In fact, some of our own published research has shown that oil sands process-affected waters that have aged for up to 15 years continue to shut off reproduction in the fathead minnow, an indigenous species in the oil sands region.”

The report covers other issues related to oil sands development, including feasibility of reclamation and adequacy of financial security, impacts of oil sands contaminants on downstream residents, population health in nearby Wood Buffalo region, ambient air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, and environmental regulatory performance.

“The Royal Society of Canada report represents the state of the science as it pertains to the oil sands mining operations,” said Van Der Kraak. “It’s a comprehensive evaluation that reviews the facts and the myths pertaining to the oil sands from the perspective of human and ecological health, the feasibility of reclamation and the adequacy of the financial security for future generations, who will be left with the legacy of the oil sands operations.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or

Prof. Glen Van Der Kraak
Department of Integrative Biology
519-824-4120, Ext. 53424

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1