On July 5, 2011, the Alberta Government released the Environmental Monitoring Panel Report to the public. The expert panel was appointed in January, 2011, by Alberta’s Environment Minister, Rob Renner, and was composed of experts from industry, science, health, and economics. The goal of the panel was to provide recommendations for an environmental monitoring, evaluation, and reporting system.

The panel reviewed studies and reports on environmental monitoring initiatives, visited the oil sands region, received written submissions from various stakeholders, held public engagement sessions in Fort McMurray, Edmonton, and Calgary, and met with Aboriginal communities. The panel’s recommendations, which are thorough, include 20 recommendations for a science-based environmental monitoring system. The three main conclusions reached by the panel are as follows:

  • Alberta must adopt a new environmental monitoring, evaluation, and reporting system which focuses on environmental effects monitoring and has a publicly accessible database;
  • The system must be organized and integrated across the Province of Alberta and cover air, land, water, and biodiversity issues to allow for more effective use of funding and ensure consistent environmental compliance; 
  • A permanent, sustainably-funded, arm’s length Environmental Monitoring Commission should be created to ensure oversight, organization, and integration of the system.

To date, the Alberta Government has not made any formal decisions on the Report, but has indicated that it plans to conduct an in-depth review of the recommendations.

In addition to the release of the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Panel Report, the Federal Government  released the Integrated Oil Sands Environment Monitoring Plan on July 21, 2011. The Plan is targeted specifically at developing a world-class monitoring program. It was developed by an independent oil sands advisory panel made up of federal, provincial, territorial and independent scientists. The report is composed of technical documents which provide the scientific foundation necessary to detect problems in air, water, and biodiversity quality in the oil sands region. However, the Plan does not deal with implementation issues such as funding or the responsibilities of existing organizations or institutions. The Federal Government has stated that it will work in collaboration with the Alberta Government and industry to develop strategies to implement the plan.

Gowlings will continue to monitor any developments in connection with the Provincial Report and Federal Plan as well as any possible implementation of an integrated monitoring system for the oil sands.