On October 17, 2012, the Government of Alberta announced the establishment of a new arm’s-length environmental monitoring agency, the Alberta Environmental Management Agency (“AEMA”). The creation of the AEMA was a key recommendation of the Environmental Monitoring Working Group (“EMWG”), which released its report on environmental monitoring, evaluation and reporting in June of this year. The EMWG reviewed and built on the report of the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Panel by addressing structural and governance alternatives and funding schemes in consultation with various stakeholders, including industry, aboriginal groups, scientists, academics and experts.

The AEMA will be the first of its kind in Canada and will employ a science-based approach. The AEMA will initially focus on what should be monitored, how it is monitored and where monitoring should occur.  

In terms of what is proposed to be monitored, the AEMA will undertake a coordinated approach to monitoring land, air, water and biodiversity. The AEMA will develop a monitoring regime incorporating traditional environmental knowledge to observe changes in the environment and will then provide open access to the data and information that is collected. Monitoring will occur in those places identified to require it, which will be determined through the AEMA’s integration with regional planning under Alberta’s Land-use Framework and the future single regulator of oil, gas, oil sands and coal activities that has been developed through the Regulatory Enhancement Project, the Alberta Energy Regulator. This regulator is expected to be in place by June of 2013.  

Implementation of the AEMA will be overseen by the Environmental Monitoring Management Board. The six members of this Board have been appointed and represent both the science and technology and management sectors. The Board will initially focus on how the AEMA will operate, including development of bylaws and governance, an initial three-year business plan, annual budget and evaluation of alternatives for long-term funding. The Board will establish scientific criteria and a monitoring strategy while ensuring engagement of appropriate interested parties.

The mechanism and amount of funding for the AEMA has yet to be determined. The EMWG recommended that funding be provided through a combination of industry, either voluntarily or through taxes and levies on environmentally impactful activities and products, and public sources.  

The initial focus for the AEMA will be on the Lower Athabasca region where much of Alberta’s oil sands activity is located. Following its work in this region, the AEMA will expand its activities throughout Alberta.  

Currently, environmental monitoring in the oil sands region is performed under the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring, a joint program of federal and Alberta government departments including Environment Canada and Alberta Environment and Water. Thus far, the Plan has expanded monitoring sites for water, air and land in the oil sands region. Upon expiry of this joint program in 2015, the AEMA will assume sole responsibility for oil sands area environmental monitoring.  

The AEMA is unique in Canada and its implementation and operation will likely present challenges for both regulators and industry. Technical monitoring requirements will likely impact operations, particularly in the sensitive oil sands region, which may be significantly affected. There is no interim plan for projects currently under development that may require monitoring once the AEMA is in place. Further, the integration of the AEMA’s activities into a complex framework of land use regulation and planning may pose additional regulatory challenges, as the Alberta Land-Use Framework has not itself been fully implemented. We will continue to monitor the AEMA and environmental monitoring in Alberta and report on significant developments.