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Governments renew oil sands monitoring agreement

The governments of Canada and Alberta today renewed their commitment to continue providing clear and scientifically rigorous information on the environmental impacts of oil sands development in northeastern Alberta.

Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, and Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Parks, Shannon Phillips, today signed a memorandum of understanding formalizing their governments’ shared responsibility to continue a long-term environmental monitoring program in the region.

The memorandum of understanding paves the way for greater Indigenous involvement in monitoring priorities and decisions. As a result, there will be more scientific expertise and funding available to Indigenous communities to assist with community-based monitoring.

Scientific data will provide objective information to help make evidence-based development decisions for the protection of our environment in Alberta’s oil sands. Research, data and information generated by this program will be scientifically credible and publicly available.

“I’m proud to continue working with Alberta to ensure that reliable, robust and transparent environmental monitoring of oil sands development remains a priority. A strong economy depends on a healthy environment. Our government is committed to making sure that Canadian resources are developed responsibly and that environmental decision-making is based on the best available science, as well as Indigenous and traditional knowledge.”

Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“Indigenous peoples are vital partners in managing Alberta’s resource economy. This agreement demonstrates our government’s commitment to reconciliation by creating greater opportunities to use both scientific and traditional knowledge in decisions that affect our environment, our economy and our communities. We know that protecting the environment and growing the economy are two sides of the same coin and that this will improve responsible, sustainable progress on both while creating good jobs for Indigenous people.”

Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

Quick facts

  • The enhanced monitoring outlined in the renewed agreement will be funded by industry up to $50 million annually.
  • The program will focus on the impact oil sands development has on air quality, water quality and quantity, wildlife health and biodiversity, and land disturbance.

Backgrounder: Canada-Alberta oil sands environmental monitoring

Since 2012, the governments of Alberta and Canada have worked to implement an environmental monitoring program for the oil sands that integrates air, water, land and biodiversity. The intent is to improve characterization of the state of the environment and enhance understanding of the cumulative effects of oil sands development activities in the oil sands area.

In 2015, an external expert peer-review of the scientific integrity of the monitoring system concluded that the existing program was a substantial improvement over previous monitoring programs; however, several areas for improvement were also highlighted.

On Dec. 21, 2017, the ministers signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding to renew and strengthen their commitments to monitor the environmental impacts of oil sands development through a long-term Canada-Alberta collaboration, with the important new addition that discussions on future governance will include Indigenous peoples. 

Some Indigenous communities publicly withdrew from the previous Joint Oil Sands Monitoring agreement in 2014, stating that it did not explicitly address treaty rights and lacked meaningful Indigenous input.

In order to strengthen efforts in reconciliation, regular consultations with Indigenous peoples began in early 2017 and remain ongoing, with clear support to date from many communities. 

Building on existing monitoring, where possible, the approach to program implementation is adaptive to ensure that the program is responsive to emerging priorities, information, knowledge and input from key stakeholders and Indigenous peoples. The implementation plan is funded by industry up to $50 million annually.

Discussions remain ongoing with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) and the oil sands industry to ensure their industrial expertise and information informs oil sands monitoring.

Canada and Alberta will continue to work in parallel to engage Indigenous communities and other stakeholders to develop a framework that gives a decision-making role in oil sands monitoring for Indigenous communities that is mutually acceptable. Beginning in early 2018, this unprecedented approach will support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Both governments remain committed to working with all partners to implement a robust, world-class and scientifically credible environmental monitoring program for the oil sands.


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