“We’re not saying these are poisonous ponds,” John Smol, a professor and the study's lead author told The New York Times. “But it’s going to get worse. It’s not too late but the trend is not looking good.”
It is worrying because oil sands production near Fort McMurray is on the rise. In 1980, Canada was producing the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day. By 2010, it had risen to 1.5 million barrels. By 2025, it's slated to increase again to 3.7 million barrels per day.
Monday's findings may bolster support for those who say treatment of the oil sands – a viscous form of oil – poses serious environmental threats. The same day the report was released, protesters assembled at locations across the United States to oppose the construction of Keystone XL. The pipeline would transport the Athabasca oil sands product to refineries in the US for the production of gasoline and other fuels.
President Obama has delayed making a final decision on issuing permits for the project, citing a need for greater study of its potential environmental costs. Last December, a Texas judge briefly ordered TransCanada Corp., the company behind the project, to stop work on the pipeline, after a property owner challenged the company in court.