Canada, Alberta commit to 'improve' environmental monitoring of oil sands

The governments of Canada and Alberta, stung by the recent US decision to postpone development of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project, have agreed to step up their monitoring of the environmental effects of oil sands developments.

“Today we are launching the most transparent and accountable oil sands monitoring system in the world,” said Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent, referring to the Alberta oil sands as “a key driver” of the Canadian economy.

“These scientific reports will be posted on our web page for the world to see,” said Kent. “We challenge others in the international oil producing community to match Canada’s commitment to environmental monitoring.”

Announcement of the new plan coincided with a visit to China this week by Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss his country's vast oil reserves, the world's third-largest after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela at more than 170 billion bbl.

Harper’s visit was described as an open warning to Washington after US President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline that would have taken oil from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast.

An ‘open warning’

“It’s a not a subtle warning. It’s an open warning. Harper has said Keystone was a wake-up call,” said Wenran Jiang, an energy expert and professor at the University of Alberta.

Some 97% of Canada’s oil exports now go to the US, but Harper is eager to diversify to China, especially as the US apparently does not want a large share in oil sands production which environmentalists say increases greenhouse gas emissions.

That could change under the new plan announced by Alberta and Canada, which will work together over the next 3 years as partners to implement a monitoring program for the oil sands.

They said the new plan “integrates all environmental components: air quality, water quality, water quantity, aquatic ecosystems, terrestrial biodiversity, and habitat.”

Implementation of the new plan will be co-led by Environment Canada and Alberta Environment and Water’s Assistant Deputy Ministers responsible for science and monitoring.

They will work with other government departments responsible for terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, lands, forests and fish habitat.

The two governments said that their monitoring program will undergo external expert peer review after the third year and then at 5-year intervals to ensure that “scientific integrity is maintained.”

They said an annual report on the status of implementation will be made public, and that data from the monitoring program and the methodology used to produce it will be made public on an ongoing basis.

“Combined with the periodic peer review, it will create a highly transparent and rigorous monitoring program,” they said.

The implementation plan has been developed by scientists from the two governments, and reflects the Integrated Environmental Monitoring Plan for the Oil Sands. That plan released last July, and was developed in collaboration with over 100 provincial, territorial, and academic scientists.

Open access

The two governments also said they are working cooperatively to develop and implement an integrated data management system that will enable “open and transparent public access to a single source of credible oil sands environmental monitoring data and supporting information.”

The two governments expect a number of key developments by the time the 3-year plan is implemented in 2015: the number of sampling sites will be higher and over a larger area; and the number and types of parameters being sampled will increase.

They also expect that the frequency that sampling occurs each year will be significantly increased; the methodologies for monitoring for both air and water will be improved; and an integrated, open data management program will be created.

With regard to water monitoring, the plan will see the following:

• Improved coordination (timing and location of sampling) for assessing related water parameters for cumulative effects assessment.

• New sediment monitoring (loadings and quality) throughout the mainstem and key tributaries of the Athabasca River to establish baseline and downstream conditions of potential contaminants throughout the system.

• New systematic sampling of snow and rainfall in order to assess the relationship between airborne processes, deposition, and surface water runoff entering tributaries and moving downstream.

• New and improved monitoring techniques for measurement of contaminants ice, ice processes the impact of freeze-up and break-up, sediment processes, and water measurement under ice.

• New integrated and intensive scientific investigations on representative watersheds.

• New intensive monitoring of sources of potential near-surface groundwater contaminants and pathways.

Air monitoring

Air monitoring also will see key developments, including:

• New air monitoring in upwind locations to understand the quality of the air moving into the oil sands area.

• New air monitoring in downwind locations to monitor the quality of air moving out of the oil sands area.

• Improved monitoring of potential sources of air contaminants to improve understanding of the levels of contaminants that are being emitted to the air from all oil sands-related sources including stacks, mine operations, tailings ponds, and vehicles.

• Improved monitoring to understand contaminant pathways and fate—how they move in the air and where they are deposited in the environment.

• Improved monitoring methodologies that use remote imagery, mobile monitoring systems, and refined monitoring networks based on the results of special studies designed to identify locations that may experience impacts.

Changes in biodiversity

The two governments also expect to see changes in biodiversity:

• Improved core biodiversity monitoring (species, habitats, disturbance) expanded from the current commitment in the Lower Athabasca planning region to include all current and potential oil sands producing areas to the west including the full Athabasca deposit and Peace deposit.

• New complementary cause-effect monitoring developed and implemented throughout the oil sands areas to better understand and manage effects of different land disturbance types.

• New “wall-to-wall” human disturbance map developed to cover entire oil sands region with ongoing refinement and updating.

• Improved high-resolution imagery will be expanded and used to classify habitat and disturbances and to better understand and predict biodiversity patterns.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

Related Articles

Shell cuts $15 billion in spending for 2015-17

01/30/2015 Royal Dutch Shell PLC has curtailed more than $15 billion in potential spending over the next 3 years, but is not “not overreacting to current low ...

Victoria extends drilling, fracing ban

01/30/2015 The new Victorian Labor government of premier Daniel Andrews has extended the coal seam gas (CSG) exploration and hydraulic fracturing ban in the s...

Chevron’s $35 billion capital budget down 13% from last year

01/30/2015 Chevron Corp. will allocate $35 billion in its capital and exploratory investment program for 2015, including $4 billion of planned expenditures by...

US Senate passes bill approving Keystone XL pipeline project

01/30/2015 The US Senate has passed a bill approving construction of the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline by a 62-36 vote after 3 weeks of debate. Nine...

Oxy cuts capital budget by a third

01/30/2015 In the midst of falling oil prices, Occidental Petroleum Corp., Houston, expects to reduce its total capital spending for 2015 to $5.8 billion from...

MARKET WATCH: NYMEX natural gas prices drop after storage report

01/30/2015 US natural gas closed at its lowest price in more than 2 years on the New York market Jan. 29 following the government’s weekly gas storage report,...

Pennsylvania governor reinstates state forest drilling moratorium

01/29/2015 Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed an executive order fully reinstating a 2010 moratorium on new oil and gas leases in state forests and parks. ...

PwC: Low oil prices might drive surge in restructuring in 2015

01/29/2015 Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the oil and gas industry hit 10-year highs in terms of deal value and volume in 2014, according to a report f...

DOE could meet 45-day LNG export decision deadline, Senate panel told

01/29/2015 The US Department of Energy would have no trouble meeting a 45-day deadline to reach a national interest determination for proposed LNG export faci...

White Papers

What is System Level Thermo-Fluid Analysis?

This paper will explain some of the fundamentals of System Level Thermo-Fluid Analysis and demonstrate...

Accurate Thermo-Fluid Simulation in Real Time Environments

The crux of any task undertaken in System Level Thermo-Fluid Analysis is striking a balance between ti...

6 ways for Energy, Chemical and Oil and Gas Companies to Avert the Impending Workforce Crisis

As many as half of the skilled workers in energy, chemical and oil & gas industries are quickly he...
Sponsored by

AVEVA NET Accesses and Manages the Digital Asset

Global demand for new process plants, power plants and infrastructure is increasing steadily with the ...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Approach for the Digital Asset

To meet the requirements for leaner project execution and more efficient operations while transferring...
Sponsored by

Diversification - the technology aspects

In tough times, businesses seek to diversify into adjacent markets or to apply their skills and resour...
Sponsored by

Engineering & Design for Lean Construction

Modern marketing rhetoric claims that, in order to cut out expensive costs and reduce risks during the...
Sponsored by

Object Lessons - Why control of engineering design at the object level is essential for efficient project execution

Whatever the task, there is usually only one way to do it right and many more to do it wrong. In the c...
Sponsored by

Available Webcasts



The Future of US Refining

When Fri, Feb 6, 2015

Oil & Gas Journal’s Feb. 6, 2015, webcast will focus on the future of US refining as various forces this year conspire to pull the industry in different directions. Lower oil prices generally reduce feedstock costs, but they have also lowered refiners’ returns, as 2015 begins with refined products priced at lows not seen in years. If lower per-barrel crude prices dampen production of lighter crudes among shale plays, what will happen to refiners’ plans to export more barrels of lighter crudes? And as always, refiners will be affected by government regulations, particularly those that suppress demand, increase costs, or limit access to markets or supply.

register:WEBCAST



On Demand

Oil & Gas Journal’s Forecast & Review/Worldwide Pipeline Construction 2015

Fri, Jan 30, 2015

The  Forecast & Review/Worldwide Pipeline Construction 2015 Webcast will address Oil & Gas Journal’s outlooks for the oil market and pipeline construction in a year of turbulence. Based on two annual special reports, the webcast will be presented by OGJ Editor Bob Tippee and OGJ Managing Editor-Technology Chris Smith.
The Forecast & Review portion of the webcast will identify forces underlying the collapse in crude oil prices and assess prospects for changes essential to recovery—all in the context of geopolitical pressures buffeting the market.

register:WEBCAST


Optimizing your asset management practices to mitigate the effects of a down market

Thu, Dec 11, 2014

The oil and gas market is in constant flux, and as the price of BOE (Barrel of Oil Equivalent) goes down it is increasingly important to optimize your asset management strategy to stay afloat.  Attend this webinar to learn how developing a solid asset management plan can help your company mitigate costs in any market.

register:WEBCAST


Parylene Conformal Coatings for the Oil & Gas Industry

Thu, Nov 20, 2014

In this concise 30-minute webinar, participants have an opportunity to learn more about how Parylene coatings are applied, their features, and the value they add to devices and components.

register:WEBCAST


Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected