POLITICS
11/10/2011 12:35 EST | Updated 01/10/2012 05:12 EST

Alberta oilsands information comes down online pipe

EDMONTON - The government of Alberta has opened its books on the oilsands.

A new online information site offers fast information on everything from greenhouse gas emissions to oil production to land disturbance — in one place, for free.

"This information has always been made available to the public but has been difficult and time-consuming to track down," Environment and Water Minister Diana McQueen said Thursday. "This portal puts data in one place where it can be evaluated by everyone: scientists, interest groups, media, researchers and any other interested individuals."

The Oilsands Information Portal won't contain any information that industry considers proprietary, something observers have long asked for.

The result of three years of work, the portal combines federal and provincial data from four ministries and five agencies. . Much of it is broken down for individual companies and facilities.

It will also provide continually refreshed data on air and water monitoring.

Researchers have long complained that information on the industry is too hard to get and spread out among agencies, some of which refused to provide it without expensive and time-consuming access-to-information requests.

Andrew Leach, a professor of energy economics at the University of Alberta, said he found data on the portal "with two clicks of a mouse" that would have taken him two weeks to dig out.

He called the site "a commendable increase in transparency," but added that important information the industry considers private remains inaccessible.

Project-based royalty figures still aren't available, he said. Nor are liability estimates.

McQueen said more information will be added in the future. But she wouldn't promise those additions would include data now considered proprietary.

"We'll have the discussion on what we're able to make public. That's a discussion that we have to have."

Simon Dyer of the environmental think-tank Pembina Institute praised the new site.

"The new oilsands information portal allows the public to understand the environmental performance of various oilsands companies and the cumulative level of impact for key environmental performance measures, including greenhouse gas pollution, land reclamation and the size of tailings lakes," he said.

"This portal is a positive step toward achieving a higher level of accountability and environmental performance in the oilsands."