Monitoring systems gather valuable data for independent scientific reviews and inform new monitoring needs as industry grows.
Oil sands companies are responsible for onsite monitoring of their operations, but rely on a number of organizations for regional monitoring and program design.
Federal review of oil sands development proposals is co-ordinated by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) which acts as a central hub, engaging other regulatory bodies as necessary. Issues relating to environment are identified by CEAA, who makes an assessment on which agencies should be involved based on federal regulatory responsibilities. CEAA works cooperatively with the industry and facilitates the co-ordination of federal regulatory reviews with that of the provincial regulators.
Alberta facilities are regulated by the provincial government’s Environment and Parks department, which sets the policy, and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), which ensures the policy is applied.
Alberta Environment and Parks sets the thresholds to minimize the impact of oil sands development on air, land and water through policy and the development of environmental frameworks. It is responsible for regional planning, integrated land management and land use policy.
Established in 2013, the AER is the single regulator of energy development in Alberta — from application and exploration, to construction and development, abandonment, reclamation and remediation. The agency was created to ensure Alberta’s energy industry balances efficiency and competitiveness with public safety, environmental management and landowner rights.
Before any project commences, oil sands operators must file an application for provincial review with AER. Some projects are also subject to a federal review with the CEAA.
Rules for water use, tailings management, air emissions, monitoring and reporting requirements and reclamation are established through the approvals process. Depending on the nature of the project, approvals can be issued with conditions under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, the Water Act, Public Lands Act and energy resources statutes (including Oil Sands Conservation Act and Oil & Gas Conservation Act).
Ongoing monitoring of all industry activity helps the AER ensure that regulatory conditions are met in Alberta’s oil sands. Facilities are subject to site inspections and audits to enforce standards, assess operational safety and ensure regulatory compliance.
Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP)
Alberta’s Land-Use Framework is developing regional plans to safeguard air and water quality in a given region – while increasing the land set aside for conservation. As the first of seven plans, LARP addresses the unique ecosystems in the Lower Athabasca Region, where the majority of oil sands operations take place. The plan is a product of consultation with Albertans, First Nations and experts on social, economic and environmental issues.
LARP’s strategy is based on the objectives outlined in the air quality, water quality, water quantity, groundwater and tailings management frameworks. The plans recognize the economic significance of Alberta’s oil sands, aiming to balance economic growth with environmental conservation.
Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA)
Alberta’s oil sands are located near the Wood Buffalo Region, home to a number of species and a population of more than 100,000. WBEA provides real-time monitoring on environmental conditions including air quality, terrestrial and human exposure. As the most extensive ambient air network in Alberta, the agency operatives 17 air monitoring stations and 23 passive monitoring stations in the area. The data gathered helps to ensure that regional stakeholders in the area have the information they need to make decisions.