Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring: chapter 2


The Implementation Plan outlines how the Governments of Alberta and Canada will work together as partners to implement a world class monitoring program for the oil sands that integrates air, water, land and biodiversity elements.

The approach to implementation is both phased and adaptive. Monitoring activities will 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. The approach is also adaptive to ensure governments are responsive to the priorities that emerge through new information and knowledge, and input from key stakeholders. Governments will work on an ongoing basis with stakeholders on implementation and adaptation of the Plan.

The monitoring commitments contained in the Implementation Plan are intended to further our understanding of current conditions and changes that have already occurred, improve characterization of the state of the environment on an ongoing basis and provide information to understand what is contributing to the cumulative effects in the oil sands area. The monitoring commitments contained in the Implementation Plan are in addition to compliance monitoring requirements already outlined in regulatory approvals.


The Governments of Canada and Alberta currently commit resources to environmental monitoring in the oil sands area, as does the oil sands industry. This Implementation Plan represents a significant enhancement in monitoring in the area relative to what is currently done and consequently requires additional financial resources. The purpose of the integrated monitoring plan is to provide assurance of environmentally-responsible production, and the importance of doing this is driven in part by the ongoing expansion of the oil sands industry. As a result, it is anticipated that additional costs would be funded by industry. The Governments of Canada and Alberta will work with the oil sands industry to develop a sustainable, ongoing funding arrangement to support the Plan. To ensure funding transparency, both governments will share full costing information with industry.

In the first three years, as the program is being put in place, the total cost of enhanced monitoring beyond what the two governments currently spend would be up to $50 million per year. It is important to note that the incremental costs to industry would be less than $50 million per year, as they already contribute significantly to monitoring of cumulative effects in the oil sands region. In subsequent years, the costs would be lower-as the monitoring program matures, our knowledge will be improved, and the work plan can be refined to focus on issues of current concern. 

Accountable Administration and Review

The Implementation Plan will be managed in a way that delivers integrated, credible and transparent environmental monitoring. Oil sands monitoring will be integrated into the broader provincial and federal monitoring systems. The approach being taken is consistent with the planned developments in Alberta‚Äôs province-wide monitoring system, including commitments on land use planning and cumulative effects management.  

Under this Plan, the current constellation of monitoring arrangements will be rationalized and integrated into a single, government-led program under the joint management of the two governments. This program will be co-led by the Assistant Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Environment Canada and the Assistant Deputy Minister of Science and Monitoring, Alberta Environment and Water. In carrying out their responsibilities, they will work with other government departments responsible for terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, lands, forests and fish habitat. 

The two government co-leads will directly manage all aspects of the monitoring program, including the oil sands monitoring activities currently managed by independent organizations. The government co-leads will consolidate the relevant monitoring activities of these organizations, and integrate them into the new government-led program. With this change, the challenges created by multiple independent monitoring programs will be resolved. The co-leads will work with these organizations, with independent scientists and industry in developing the change management plans for these organizations needed to deliver on this fundamental transformation.

Early in the process, the two governments will engage with industry, independent scientists, Aboriginal Peoples, and other stakeholders on the content of the Implementation Plan and on the appropriate mechanisms to incorporate the advice of industry, independent scientists, Aboriginal Peoples, and other stakeholders on an ongoing basis.

To maximize transparency, an annual report on the status of implementation will be made public. In addition, the monitoring system will undergo external expert peer review after year three, and at five-year intervals thereafter, to ensure that scientific integrity is maintained. Each external peer review will be accompanied by an internal review of the scope, the operations and the cost of the monitoring program. This review, carried out jointly by the two governments, will ensure the monitoring program remains as cost effective and efficient as possible.

Adaptive Management

Monitoring in the oil sands area will be managed in an adaptive manner. A detailed plan is set out for the first year, and, reflecting the intentions of the Integrated Monitoring Plan of July, 2011, establishes a clear approach for years 2 and 3. Consistent with adaptive management, plans and activities will evolve to reflect experience gained from the initial work, as well as discussions with industry and other stakeholders. Details will be refined and adjusted based on this adaptive approach.   

The monitoring program will be evaluated at regular intervals and will be improved as scientific and technical knowledge evolves and as circumstances change. In addition to maintaining a certain degree of long-term monitoring capacity, additional monitoring can and will be added if important changes are detected at a given site or region, or alternatively, reduced where repeated sampling has shown no significant changes are occurring, no new activity is planned, and monitoring in the area is not needed for control purposes.

The adaptive management approach will also help to ensure that the program is implemented in as cost-effective a manner as possible. 

Transparent and Accessible Results

A strong commitment to transparency and accessibility as core scientific principles is the foundation of the integrated monitoring program.

To ensure consistency and the ability to integrate data, standardized quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) procedures and standard operating protocols (SOPs) will be developed. All parties conducting environmental monitoring under the Implementation Plan will utilize these procedures and protocols. If they do not already exist, they will be developed for areas including sample collection, analysis, data archiving, and reporting. 

The Implementation Plan will produce a data management framework that will allow information to be uploaded, organized and publicly-available in a timely, standardized, coordinated manner such that it is transparent and freely accessible. The framework will enable concerned parties to conduct their own analysis and draw their own conclusions from the integrated monitoring program.

Combined with the periodic external peer review outlined above, this data management framework will ensure the monitoring program sustains the transparency needed to support the on-going production of rigorous, comprehensive and scientifically-credible information on the human disturbance footprint of the industry.

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