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Canada and Alberta take action to implement world class monitoring system for the oil sands

Increased air, water, land and biodiversity monitoring in the oil sands will begin this year as the Government of Canada and Government of Alberta take a major step forward in their partnership to improve environmental monitoring in the oil sands region.

The Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring commits to a scientifically rigorous, comprehensive, integrated, and transparent environmental monitoring program for the region. It outlines the path forward to enhance the monitoring of water, air, land and biodiversity in the oil sands by demonstrating how we will sample more sites for more substances more frequently. The program is designed to provide an improved understanding of the long-term cumulative effects of oil sands development.

“The Alberta oil sands are a key driver of the Canadian economy,” said Canada’s Environment Minister, the Honourable Peter Kent. “Today we are launching the most transparent and accountable oil sands monitoring system in the world. These scientific reports will be posted on our web page for the world to see. We challenge others in the international oil producing community to match Canada's commitment to environmental monitoring.”

“Albertans, and Canadians, have high expectations that we excel at both energy production and environmental protection,” said the Honourable Diana McQueen, Minister of Alberta Environment and Water. “We can have it both ways. We are confident this environmental monitoring system will be one of the most progressive and comprehensive of any industrially developed region in the world.”

The three-year implementation plan begins this spring with increased sampling frequency, parameters, and locations. It will also integrate relevant parts of existing monitoring efforts and will give government and industry the scientific foundation necessary to continue to promote the environmentally sustainable development of the oil sands. The implementation plan reflects the Integrated Oil Sands Environment Monitoring Plan released by Environment Canada in July and will be consistent with the Government of Alberta’s plans for a province-wide environmental monitoring system.

Data from the new monitoring program, and the methods on which it is based, will be transparent, supported by necessary quality assurance, and will be made publicly available to allow independent scientific assessments and evaluations. This will encourage informed discussions and analysis on the impacts of oil sands development based on high-quality scientific information.

As the process continues to move forward, implementation of the monitoring program will be jointly managed by the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta. Annual progress reports on implementation will be prepared for the first three years, with an external scientific peer review of the program and the end of the third year. Following that, a full external, scientific review of the new program will be conducted every five years.

Currently, both governments and industry commit significant resources to environmental monitoring. It is expected that industry will provide increased funding required to implement this new program. The two governments will move forward immediately with discussions with industry, as well as other stakeholders, to establish the details related to implementation, including the arrangements for sustainable funding of the program. This engagement with industry, scientists and other stakeholders will be ongoing as we continue to implement our joint plan.

At the same time, both governments will take immediate steps required to start implementing the activities outlined for year one of the program, and make the fullest possible use of the upcoming field season for monitoring. Monitoring in the oil sands will be managed in an adaptive manner, with plans and activities evolving to reflect experience gained from initial work. Details in years two and three will be finalized, refined and adjusted based on this adaptive approach, while continuing to reflect the comprehensive, integrated approach of year one.

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Backgrounder: Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring

Media inquiries may be directed to:

Adam Sweet
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of the Environment 
819-997-1441

Mark Cooper
Communications
Alberta Environment and Water
780-427-6267
Alberta Environment and Water’s Twitter page:http://twitter.com/AENV_h2o

Media Relations 
Environment Canada
819-934-8008

Environment Canada’s Twitter page: http://twitter.com/environmentca

Environment Canada’s Facebook page: 
http://www.facebook.com/environmentca

Backgrounder

Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring

The oil sands are a strategic natural resource for Canada, and a key driver of economic development. However, the expansion of oil sands development has led to the need for a better understanding of the potential cumulative environmental effects. The Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta are working together on a phased and adaptive approach to monitoring to ensure that this important resource is developed in an environmentally responsible way.

The joint plan strengthens environmental monitoring programs for air, water, land and biodiversity in the oil sands region. It will result in improved knowledge of the state of the environment in the oil sands area and an enhanced understanding of cumulative effects and environmental change, including future impacts arising from multiple stressors, which will become more important to understand as development continues. 

Monitoring enhancements are already underway and will continue to be phased in over the next three years to ensure installation of necessary infrastructure, incremental enhancement of activities and appropriate integration with existing monitoring activities in the region.

By the time the three-year plan is fully-implemented in 2015:

  • the number of sampling sites will be higher and over a larger area;
  • the number and types of parameters being sampled will increase;
  • the frequency (how many times) that sampling occurs each year will be significantly increased;
  • the methodologies for monitoring for both air and water will be improved; and
  • an integrated, open data management program will be created.

For a detailed account of each of the elements of the implementation plan, please consult the full Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for the Oil Sands. http://environment.alberta.ca/03379.html

Water monitoring

  • Improved coordination (timing and location of sampling) for assessing related water parameters - quantity, quality, sediment, fish, benthic invertebrates, aerial deposition, acid-sensitive lakes - for cumulative effects assessment.
  • New sediment monitoring (loadings and quality) throughout the mainstem and key tributaries of the Athabasca River to establish baseline and downstream conditions of potential contaminants throughout the system.
  • New systematic sampling of snow and rainfall in order to assess the relationship between airborne processes, deposition, and surface water runoff entering tributaries and moving downstream.
  • New and improved monitoring techniques for measurement of contaminants ice, ice processes the impact of freeze-up and break-up, sediment processes, and water measurement under ice.
  • New integrated and intensive scientific investigations on representative watersheds.
  • New intensive monitoring of sources of potential near-surface groundwater contaminants and pathways.

Air monitoring

  • New air monitoring in upwind locations to understand the quality of the air moving into the oil sands area.
  • New air monitoring in downwind locations to monitor the quality of air moving out of the oil sands area.
  • Improved monitoring of potential sources of air contaminants to improve understanding of the levels of contaminants that are being emitted to the air from all oil sands-related sources including stacks, mine operations, tailings ponds and vehicles.
  • Improved monitoring to understand contaminant pathways and fate - how they move in the air and where they are deposited in the environment.
  • Improved monitoring methodologies that use remote imagery, mobile monitoring systems, and refined monitoring networks based on the results of special studies designed to identify locations that may experience impacts.

Biodiversity (habitat)

  • Improved core biodiversity monitoring (species, habitats, disturbance) expanded from the current commitment in the Lower Athabasca planning region to include all current and potential oil sands producing areas to the west including the full Athabasca deposit and Peace deposit.
  • New complementary cause-effect monitoring developed and implemented throughout the oil sands areas to better understand and manage effects of different land disturbance types. (This will be particularly helpful for migratory birds and priority species such as caribou.)
  • New "wall-to-wall" human disturbance map developed to cover entire oil sands region with ongoing refinement and updating.
  • Improved high-resolution imagery will be expanded and used to classify habitat and disturbances and to better understand and predict biodiversity patterns.

The result will be a comprehensive, integrated and credible program able to provide information to inform ongoing decisions and be used to measure the performance of policy and regulatory decisions and management. The following provides an indication of how specific aspects of monitoring will improve: 

Approach. Under the plan, the governments of Alberta and Canada will work together over the next three years as partners to implement a world class monitoring program for the oil sands that integrates all environmental components—air quality, water quality, water quantity, aquatic ecosystems, terrestrial biodiversity and habitat.

Management. Implementation will be under the joint direction and management of the two governments to ensure a comprehensive, integrated and joint approach. Specifically, implementation will be co-led by Environment Canada and Alberta Environment and Water’s Assistant Deputy Ministers responsible for science and monitoring. They will work with other government departments responsible for terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, lands, forests and fish habitat.

Peer review. The monitoring program will undergo external expert peer review after year three and at five-year intervals thereafter to ensure that scientific integrity is maintained.  An annual report on the status of implementation will be made public. In addition, the data from the monitoring program and the methodology used to produce it will be made public on an ongoing basis. Combined with the periodic peer review, it will create a highly transparent and rigorous monitoring program.

Credibility. The implementation plan has been developed by scientists from the two governments, working closely together. It reflects the Integrated Environmental Monitoring Plan for the Oil Sands that was released in July 2011, and which was developed in collaboration with over 100 provincial, territorial and academic scientists.

Transparency. The two governments are working cooperatively to develop and implement an integrated data management system that will enable open and transparent public access to a single source of credible oil sands environmental monitoring data and supporting information.

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Media inquiries may be directed to:

Adam Sweet
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of the Environment
819-997-1441

Mark Cooper
Communications
Alberta Environment and Water
780-427-6267
http://twitter.com/AENV_h2o

Media Relations
Environment Canada
819-934-8008

Environment Canada’s Twitter page: http://twitter.com/environmentca

Environment Canada’s Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/environmentcan