On February 3, 2012, the Federal and Alberta governments introduced the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring, a three-year implementation plan to enhance environmental monitoring of air, water, land, and biodiversity in the oil sands.
Due to be completed in 2015, the implementation plan includes expansion of the current number and locations of monitoring sites, increased sampling frequency and parameters, and implementation of new sensing tools and methods. Monitoring will focus on collecting data from the following components: air quality, water quantity and quality, levels of acidity in sensitive lakes, aquatic ecosystem health, wildlife toxicology, and terrestrial biodiversity and habitat disturbance.
The phased implementation of the monitoring program will be jointly managed by both governments with public annual progress reports prepared for the first three years and, following year three, external expert peer reviews at five-year intervals. As well, the monitoring program will undergo internal reviews of the scope, operations and cost of the program.
In addition to increased monitoring efforts, the implementation plan includes the development of a data management system which will make the methodology and collected data publicly available in a standardized coordinated manner. This will encourage and enable concerned parties to conduct independent assessment and evaluations.
During the first three years, the total cost of the enhanced monitoring will be up to $50 million per year on top of the current resources contributed to environmental monitoring. The implementation plan indicates that funding for the monitoring program will come primarily from industry. Moving forward, both governments will be working with oil sands industry to develop a sustainable, ongoing funding arrangement to support the monitoring program.
The new program will consolidate and integrate the oils sands monitoring activities presently managed by independent organizations and resolves the current challenges created by multiple independent monitoring programs.
Furthermore, data from the expanded monitoring will be used to improve understanding of the current status and on-going state of the environment as well as the factors contributing to the environmental impacts in the oil sands area. This approach to environmental monitoring will be useful as a tool to assess the efficacy of mitigation efforts and may be a key component for decision-makers and stakeholders to advance sustainable management of resource development in Alberta while balancing environmental interests and commitments.