Canada-Alberta oil sands environmental monitoring

Backgrounder

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

To date, the Joint Canada-Alberta Oil Sands Monitoring Program has significantly improved the ability to track low-level contaminants by increasing the geographic coverage of monitoring efforts—nearly doubling the number of sites monitored, increasing the frequency of sampling, sampling for more compounds and with more sensitive detection methods, and integrating results.

In 2015, an external expert peer review of the monitoring system’s scientific integrity concluded that the existing program was a substantial improvement over previous monitoring programs; however, it highlighted several areas for improvement. For example, the review recommended that the integration of monitoring efforts across air, water, and wildlife be enhanced and that data be available and accessible to all stakeholders.

On December 21, 2017, the ministers signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding to renew and strengthen their commitments to monitoring the environmental impacts of oil sands development through a long-term Canada-Alberta collaboration. The memorandum of understanding includes a new commitment 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.

To strengthen reconciliation efforts, regular consultations with Indigenous Peoples began in early 2017 and remain ongoing, with clear support from many communities.

Building on existing monitoring, where possible, the program implementation approach is adaptive to ensure the program is responsive to emerging priorities, information, knowledge, and input from key stakeholders and Indigenous Peoples.

Discussions with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, and the oil sands industry remain ongoing to ensure their industrial expertise and information contributes to 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 Indigenous communities a mutually acceptable decision-making role in oil sands monitoring. Beginning in early 2018, this unprecedented approach will support reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

The implementation plan is funded by industry, up to $50 million annually. In addition, Environment and Climate Change Canada contributes approximately $6 million per year to environmental monitoring and research in the area. Under the new Canada-Alberta agreement, signed in December 2017, Environment and Climate Change Canada will invest up to an additional $2 million annually to assist local Indigenous communities to develop and implement community-based monitoring programs in the region.

Both the governments of Canada and Alberta 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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