Canada’s Environmental Monitoring Plan for Oil Sands Development

Photo by Martin Loader. Some rights reserved.

Oil sands, now synonymous with the infamously stalled Keystone Pipeline, have an inexorable future in Canada, regardless of Keystone’s fate. And our neighbors to the north aren’t denying it: a recent newsletter from law firm Gowlings reports on steps the Governments of Canada and Alberta are jointly taking to enhance monitoring systems that would track “cumulative effects and environmental change” in the oil sands area.

The Government of Alberta’s web page on oil sands monitoring is cautiously optimistic about development in the region – “Albertans have high expectations that we excel at both energy production and environmental protection – we can have it both ways.”

It appears that the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring is just one part of an attempt to provide, well, disinfectant through sunlight. By offering coordinated and comprehensive information to the public about oil sands development, the two governments hope to “enhance our ability to detect environmental change and manage cumulative effects.”

Some of the planned improvements to existing (and currently disparate) monitoring programs are as follows:

  • 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; and
  • the methodologies for monitoring for both air and water will be improved

The plan not only describes the increased monitoring efforts to be phased in over the next three years, but also the development of an integrated data management system to host all the data – the Oil Sands Data Management Network. The new “OS_DMN” will presumably replace or supplement the existing Government of Alberta Oil Sands Information Portal, a “one-window source for information on the environmental impacts of oil sands development.

While response to the plan is reportedly positive, The Calgary Herald points out a few glaring omissions:

[one] thing that stands out is the upfront acknowledgment that “this plan does not deal with implementation issues like funding and responsibilities of existing organizations or institutions.”

The plan speculates that “the total cost of enhanced monitoring beyond what the two governments currently spend would be up to $50 million per year.”

One response to this post.

  1. […] sun hat (and just to be clear, that was an intentional “land of milk and honey” joke). When last we checked in with the great white north, the government of Alberta was setting up advanced techniques to […]


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