An Integrated Monitoring Plan for the Oil Sands

On December 16, 2010, the Independent Oil Sands Advisory Panel presented its report to the Minister of the Environment with recommendations for the development of a world class monitoring plan for the oil sands region.

In response to this report and other concerns, the Minister of the Environment committed the Government of Canada to lead, in collaboration with Alberta, the development of an environmental monitoring plan for the oil sands.

The first phase of this was entitled “A Water Quality Monitoring Plan for the Lower Athabasca River,” and was released in March. Building on that, the second phase of the plan was announced on July 21, 2011.

The integrated approach added air and biodiversity monitoring in addition to an expansion of the water component announced in March.

This Plan will provide the scientific foundation necessary to detect problems in the region and provide governments and industry with the information that they need to ensure the environmentally sustainable development of this important resource. 

The Plan includes a strong focus on integration among components. The basis for this is outlined in the Plan’s overview piece:

Integrated Monitoring Plan for the Oil Sands: Overview

This section provides a brief overview of all the monitoring components and outlines key principles behind their integration.

Integrated Monitoring Plan for the Oil Sands: Water– Phase 1

Originally released in March, this provides background on the concepts behind an overall approach to monitoring, and lays out new water quality monitoring for the region closest to the oil sands development.

Integrated Monitoring Plan for the Oil Sands: Water– Phase 2

Important additions to the Phase 1 water quality report have expanded the water component to cover a larger geographic area downstream and in acid sensitive lakes, and adds monitoring of fish and invertebrates.  These additions improve the ability to track change over time.

Integrated Monitoring Plan for the Oil Sands: Air Quality

The integration of enhanced air monitoring is a crucial addition. Pollutants emitted to, and transported by, air can impact areas distant from the point of emission. Additional air monitoring will strengthen measurements and will help answer the key questions of what is being emitted from oil sands operations, how much and from what sources. It will also tell us more about the atmospheric fate – the transport, transformation and deposition - of oil sands emissions and how these emissions interact with emissions from other sectors. As with water, the air component of the plan builds on and integrates with existing air monitoring activities, and with measurements from other media, will help relate emissions to cumulative and acute effects on the ecosystem.

Integrated Monitoring Plan for the Oil Sands: Biodiversity

The overall objective of this component of the monitoring plan is to look at the levels and effects of oil sands-related contaminants and their influence on the health of the individual wildlife and wildlife populations at varying distances from oil sands operations. A second component focuses on assessing the impacts of habitat disturbance on biodiversity in the region and the success of mitigation efforts.

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