07/16/2012 08:46 EDT | Updated 09/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Federal, Alberta ministers tour new oilsands monitoring sites

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent and his Alberta counterpart, Diana McQueen, spent Monday touring several new oilsands monitoring stations which are now under development in northern Alberta.

The sites are part of the new joint Canada-Alberta environmental monitoring plan announced in February by Kent and McQueen, Alberta's minister of the environment and sustainable resource development.

The two ministers viewed several sites around Fort McMurray where monitoring is now underway. Scientists are currently taking samples at 30 different sites.

"The amount of water that flows during a flood, or freshet, is a large amount of water," said Fred Wrona from Environment Canada.

"We never sampled that berfore so we had crews out here daily, since March, sampling some key tributary systems right now to get a more improved resolution of what we're getting in terms of water quality changes in these systems."

Kent said on Monday that the monitoring will be transparent and be a model for other countries to follow.

"It gives Canada the social licence, it gives some of our critics abroad tangible scientific evidence of the responsible way in which the oilsands — which are a great Canadian resource — are being developed," he said.

But Mike Hudema of Greenpeace says there are still questions about whether the system will be independent of industry and the government.

"We're still two to three years off of having an even semi-credible water monitoring program in this province," Hudema said. "And even then, whether it will actually have independent monitoring, and oversight, or not, we still don't know."

Hudema believes the ministers' tour was an effort to distract the public from recent pipeline ruptures that have raised more questions about responsible development.

Implementation of the plan will roll out over three years with 90 testing sites scattered across northern Alberta.