The government of Alberta, Canada has approved the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP). The region includes a substantial portion of the Athabasca oil sands area, which contains approximately 82% of the province’s oil sands resource and much of the Cold Lake oil sands area.
The Lower Athabasca Region represents the province’s fastest growing regional source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for approximately 15 per cent of the province’s total GHG emissions. This is largely due to oil sands development...However, it is important to note that the oil sands industry has dramatically reduced its GHG emissions intensity—that is, the level of emissions per unit of production—by an average of 29 per cent as of 2009. Much of these improvements are driven by technology development and innovation that has been a central part of realizing the potential of this sector.
...The cumulative effects of population growth and economic development in the region are increasing pressures on the region’s air, water, land and biodiversity. The Alberta government is committed to responsible development. Alberta’s current environmental management system is intended to reduce and minimize the impacts of development on the environment.—LARP
Due to go into effect 1 September 2012, the LARP is the first of seven regional plans committed to under Alberta’s Land-use Framework.
With a 50-year time horizon in mind, the LARP identifies strategic directions for the region over the next 10 years. The LARP considers the cumulative effects of all activities on air, water and biodiversity; establishes new environmental frameworks with limits to protect air and surface water quality; and increases the total conserved land within the region to more than two million hectares—3x the size of Banff National Park.
Among its provisions, LARP:
Immediately sets regional environmental limits for air and surface water quality and regional groundwater management framework with interim triggers;
Establishes six new conservation areas, bringing the total conserved land in the region to two million hectares, or 22% of the region;
Changes the Dillon River Conservation Area from a Public Land-use Zone to a Wildland Provincial Park and increasing the size by 27,245 hectares to 191,544 hectares, thus securing a larger tract of important caribou habitat;
Addresses infrastructure challenges and new strategies to plan for urban development around Fort McMurray;
Provides year-round tourism and recreational opportunities through the creation of nine new provincial recreational areas, which will have access to campsites, trails and boat docks;
Commits to a regional trail system plan;
Commits to the development of tailings management, biodiversity, and surface water quantity frameworks;
Commits to engage and work with aboriginal communities on initiatives to incorporate traditional knowledge into environmental planning;
Identifies opportunities to engage with aboriginal communities on initiatives to support tourism development;
Provides certainty for industry in development of the oil sands; and
Supports diversification of the regional economy≥
LARP is a major component of the province’s efforts to advance resource stewardship. Since October 2011, Alberta has provided access to environmental oil sands data through the delivery of the Oil Sands Information Portal; improved engagement with Albertans on property rights issues for land impacted by industrial development; and introduced the joint Alberta-Canada oil sands monitoring program.
Alberta will soon announce plans for the governance of a province-wide environmental monitoring system and will move to implement a new single regulator that eliminates overlap and duplication of regulatory functions.