By RICHARD LIEBRECHT, Edmonton Sun
Prior to industrial development, Alberta’s oilsands was “nature’s biggest unusable oil spill,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper Friday.
Environmental groups are calling the prime minister out of touch with nature based on his description.
 
“The development of the oilsands is more like causing an oil spill than cleaning it up,” said Jennifer Grant, a policy analyst with Alberta’s Pembina Institute.
 
“This area was a functioning ecosystem that was, that is very diverse before tarsands development. To portray it as an oil spill is missing the point,” added Gillian McEachern, a program manager at national group Environmental Defence.
 
Harper made the comments during a speech in Edmonton praising the oil industry for so quickly developing the resource.
 
“I remember the day as a young boy preparing a speech on the oil industry for class, public speaking when I was in Grade 5 or 6. I remember back then you couldn’t get commercial oil out of the oilsands. It was just a big unusable mass of dirty sand in northern Alberta,” he said.
 
“It comes across as a bit utilitarian — this is a resource that needs to be exploited. That’s up for debate given the impacts. We need responsible development of this resource, and that’s not happening,” said Grant. Governments are lacking plans to protect wildlands and control development, she said.
 
Harper qualified his comments.
 
“I think the industry has made remarkable strides commercially, made some strides as well environmentally. More has to be done,” he said.
The federal government recently ordered an examination of water testing in the oilsands region.