The RSC’s mining of the oil sands … data

“Oil Industry gets a do-over” according to yesterday’s National Post. Its editorial board is pointing to “an exhaustive new study on Alberta’s oil sands” released today by the “impartial Royal Society of Canada”.

“If anything, it’s the environmentalists who are making people sick”, reported the Post, as “there is no credible evidence to support the commonly repeated media accounts of excess cancer.”

The Globe and Mail’s take is different: “Oil-sands report criticizes all stakeholders”. “It paints Ottawa as an absentee oil sands parent and laments Alberta’s weak regulatory system, adding both governments’ efforts haven’t “kept pace” with development. It says industry has failed in efforts to restore mined land to its original state”.

I have asked a few experts for their opinion on all this, and will try to report back if I learn anything new about this study.

What comes to mind for now is the question: what is the role of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) in all of this? Did it commission, sponsor, or just approve the results of, the study? And if yes, what are the internal processes within the RSC that allow it to check and validate such findings? Do RSC sponsored/commissioned reports go through the standard external refereeing process?

All what the terms of reference say in this regard, is that “the RSC has assembled a panel of experts that is independent of the major stakeholders to review and assess available evidence bearing on these issues and identify knowledge gaps to provide Canadians with a scientific perspective in a summary report.”

This comes to mind because the panel behind the headlined report consists of 3 researchers from Laval, and 4 from the University of Alberta. Only one of the 8 panelists is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

The US National academy of science has very strict processes, and their reports are usually prepared by members of the academy.

I am definitely not questioning their findings. It’s just that such a report can be so consequential, that it will be good if the RSC is standing on firm ground.

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