Alberta will resume environmental monitoring requirements for oil and gas operators after 2-month pause 

Edmonton – Alberta Environment and Parks and Alberta’s Energy Regulator have announced that reporting and monitoring of environmental monitoring for oil and gas operations will resume on July 15, 2020, across Alberta. Reporting and monitoring was initially suspended amid concerns that industry would not be able to keep workers and communities safe by following COVID-19 public health guidelines. In April and May, Alberta’s Energy Regulator announced a series of unilateral suspensions of requirements for environmental monitoring activities without details on when and how the monitoring would be eventually reinstated. At the same time, Alberta was taking steps to relaunch the economy and work at oil and gas facilities continued. 

“We are relieved there is now a date when the monitoring requirements will start again, but the suspensions never should have happened in the first place,” says Gillian Chow-Fraser, Boreal Program Manager.

There are many questions and concerns that remain, despite certainty that monitoring will soon resume. Clarity is still needed on what criteria were used to select which activities would be suspended, the decision-making process that triggered the need for such suspensions, and how companies will now report on the missing data this quarter. Transparency on these decisions is key when it comes to the health of our environment and accountability of our energy sector. 

With monitoring requirements resuming on July 15, suspensions of these requirements for conventional and in situ oil & gas operations will have lasted for 8 weeks. Some oil sands operations will have had some monitoring requirement suspensions for 11 weeks.

The suspensions overlapped with about half of the Spring migratory bird season, which extends from March to June. “This is a critical time of the year when nearly one million birds fly over the oil sands to reach their breeding grounds, ” adds Chow-Fraser. “It’s a blackhole of information on that time period that we will never get back.” Bird deterrent systems, such as scare cannons, remained operational to try and prevent birds from coming into contact with toxic treated waters, but requirements for actual monitoring of landings in treated waters were suspended. The operation of deterrent systems are not effective in preventing all bird landings, meaning data on bird landings are critical for developing effective protection plans that save birds’ lives. Just days before the suspension were announced, one hundred birds landed in an oil sands operation, resulting in the death of at least 50 birds. Non-lethal impacts on birds of landing in tailings-impacted waters are still not fully understood.

The suspensions were announced without consultations with downstream Indigenous communities or the general public. Environmental groups strongly opposed the suspensions with letters sent to the federal government and the provincial government urging for immediate reinstatement. The AER has committed to sharing information with impacted groups regarding resumption of monitoring activities and to engage further with stakeholders to discuss “how we can better work together”CPAWS Northern Alberta has submitted a series of questions to the AER and we look forward to their response.

Read our joint letter to federal Minister Wilkinson about the impacts of suspensions on Wood Buffalo National Park here

Read our joint letter for Ministers Nixon and Savage about the monitoring and reporting suspensions here

Read our op-ed on the impacts of the suspensions on migratory birds here


Gillian Chow-Fraser
Boreal Program Manager, CPAWS Northern Alberta

[email protected]