|Summary of the current oil sands developments (mining and in-situ) and associated land use changes in the Fort McMurray region, highlighting some of the challenges the integrated monitoring design addresses. Click to enlarge.|
Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent released an integrated monitoring plan for the oil sands region. The Government of Canada coordinated the development of the monitoring plan in collaboration with provincial, territorial and academic scientists and will work with the Province of Alberta on implementation.
The final plan includes components for monitoring air quality, biodiversity, and the next phase of water quality monitoring in the oil sands region. The plan is also to provide the scientific foundation necessary to provide governments and industry with the information that they need to continue to ensure the environmentally sustainable development of the oil sands resource, which Minister Kent called “a significant, long-term economic advantage for the people of Alberta, and all Canadians”.
|“A key observation by expert reviewers of this Plan was that despite its technical competence, sound and timely implementation will dictate whether the Plan will succeed or fail in its goal of generating the data necessary to provide assurance that the oil sands are being developed sustainably.”|
|—An Integrated Oil Sands Environment Monitoring Plan|
In December, 2010 a Federal Oil Sands Advisory Panel presented a report to the federal Environment Minister that reviewed current monitoring activities in the lower Athabasca River system, identified key shortcomings, and provided recommendations on what would constitute a world-class monitoring program for the oil sands region. The integrated monitoring plan follows the 2010 recommendations of the panel.
The results of Phase 1, a conceptual framework for a monitoring plan and detailed water quality monitoring scheme for the Lower Athabasca River, was released in March. While Phase 1 focused on the issue of water quality, it was recognized that there was a need to expand to integrate air and biodiversity monitoring, as well as broader water quality monitoring and effects assessment. Environment Canada says that this holistic approach is designed to focus on specific areas where there are gaps in the scientific data and to adapt to changing needs as environmental data and understanding change over time.
The Integrated Oil Sands Environmental Monitoring Plan includes four integrated components:
- Water Quality Monitoring Plan (Phase 1 Athabasca River Mainstem and Tributaries);
- Expanded Geographical Extent for Water Quality and Quantity, Aquatic Biodiversity and Effects, and Acid Sensitive Lakes Monitoring;
- Air Quality Monitoring for the Oil Sands; and
- Terrestrial Biodiversity and Habitat Monitoring.
Both the frequency of sampling and the geographic scope of coverage of the plan are linked to a series of decision triggers. Monitoring thus can be enhanced if important changes are detected at a given site, or alternatively, reduced where repeated sampling has shown no significant changes are occurring. All information will be available to the public.
The integrated ecosystem-based plan covers:
The Lower Athabasca watershed, including the Athabasca River mainstem and its tributaries the Peace-Athabasca Delta, and Lake Athabasca. In addition, relevant segments of the Peace and Slave River systems (including the Slave River Delta), acid sensitive lakes in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories;
Air quality and atmospheric deposition in northern Alberta, southern Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and Manitoba; and
Strategic terrestrial habitats in Alberta and Saskatchewan.