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Due to the severe risks to global biodiversity and ecosystem function from greenhouse gas emissions, AWA is unable to support the development of Alberta’s bitumen/oil sands deposits, due to their higher intensity greenhouse gas emissions.

The terms Oil sands, Tar Sands and Bitumen Sands are all in usage in Alberta. The term Tar Sands was used in the earlier days of industrial development, but was later largely replaced by the more benign-sounding Oil Sands. The product contained within the sands is in fact more akin to bitumen than either oil or tar. On these pages, AWA uses the term “Oil Sands” as the one in most popular usage, though this is not intended to align AWA to any one position in relation to the resource or its extraction.

    • Introduction
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    Oil Sands Mackay River

    Oil Sands, MacKay River (J. Hildebrand)

    Due to the severe risks to global biodiversity and ecosystem function from greenhouse gas emissions, AWA is unable to support the development of Alberta’s bitumen/oil sands deposits, due to their higher intensity greenhouse gas emissions.

    Recognizing that oil sands development is proceeding,  AWA believes that regional land, air and water impacts of oil sands exploration and development must be regulated to uphold Alberta’s and Canada’s international obligations to maintain and restore biodiversity, to protect species at risk, and to use water resources sustainably in a manner that is consistent with the maintenance of wilderness values.

    There are significant environmental impacts associated with oilsands exploration, extraction, transport, and processing, for which extensive scientific evidence exists. Some effects can be mitigated by technological innovation and stringent regulatory requirements, but until these technologies are proven, a precautionary approach must be employed. Planning development today, on the basis of future technology being developed to mitigate the impact is fundamentally flawed.

    Full-field life-cycle planning must be required for all new developments including phase-out, remediation, and reclamation planning. Adequate reclamation liability must be assessed on a per-project basis that accounts for all remediation and reclamation costs, and does not leave Albertans vulnerable to major financial risks.

    Tailings pond

    Syncrude tailings ponds (C. Wearmouth)

    AWA believes both the provincial and federal governments must act quickly to develop more stringent science-based environmental regulations that would inform a world-class air, water, and biodiversity monitoring system. Similarly, the public must be confident that these regulations will be enforced. Until a world-class monitoring system has been developed, AWA recommends that a precautionary approach must be taken, and that new leases should not be issued. AWA also supports accessible and meaningful consultation processes with all stakeholders, especially where treaty rights are implicated.

    2021

    AWA participated in the annual work planning process to outline monitoring priorities for the Oil Sands Monitoring 2021/22 program year. We were disappointed to see that the wetlands monitoring Technical Advisory Committees only received 45% of their requested funding for the year, with terrestrial biodiversity monitoring only receiving roughly twothirds of the funds they had requested. One major concern with the funding decisions that was voiced across the Oil Sand Monitoring program is that the geospatial work plan was cut by 85%. This will result in negative consequences for the intended monitoring work to be conducted by other Technical Advisory Committees.

    AWA participates on the Oil Sands Monitoring program wetlands monitoring and terrestrial biodiversity monitoring Technical Advisory Committees. These committees are accountable for designing monitoring programs to address the priorities set out by the Oversight Committee.

    2020

    AWA urges the Canadian government to reject Teck Resources Ltd.’s proposed Frontier open pit bitumen mine because of significant adverse effects to the environment and to the rights, land use and culture of Indigenous groups who use the project area. The federalprovincial joint review panel for Teck Frontier concluded that the proposed mitigation measures were not proven to be effective or to fully mitigate project effects. AWA also cited Alberta’s weak oil sands mine reclamation regulations, including inadequate financial security provisions and timelines, which we believe make it unlikely these mines will be reclaimed by their operators.

    In February, Teck decides to withdraw the mine project. AWA welcomes this decision.

    OSM 202021 funding decisions were made public. They included significant cuts to Terrestrial Biodiversity Monitoring ($4.2 million compared to $8.3 million funded the year before) and Wetlands Monitoring ($0.6 million compared to $2.7 million the year before). AWA looks forward to revived programs for 202122.

    In early April 2020, AWA voiced concerns about the Government of Alberta’s March 31 decision to suspend most energy industry environmental compliance reporting requirements. We were unconvinced that this was a pandemic safetyrelated measure since all data gathering and recordkeeping requirements remained. We joined First Nations and other ENGOs in raising concerns when Alberta further suspended most environmental monitoring requirements in late April and early May; this occurred at a time when other economic activities were reopening with pandemic safety measures in place. Although reporting and monitoring resumed in July 2020, AWA remains concerned about the interruption of compliance reporting and loss of data collection without transparent justification.

    2019

    In November, AWA becomes the AEN delegate to the new Wetland Monitoring TAC.

    From autumn 2019 to February 2020, intensive workshops and meetings occurred at the Terrestrial Biological TAC to confirm and ensure monitoring programs align with OSM “stressorpathwayreceptor” conceptual models. There were discussions of ongoing integration across OSM Program elements of Air, Surface Water, Ground Water and Data and Integrated Analytics. The new Wetlands TAC built upon OSMrelated Wetlands work of past few years and had similar discussions.

    2018

    A positive new governance framework for the joint federalprovincial Oil Sands Monitoring (OSM) program was finalized. It includes significant Indigenous participation at all levels. This OSM framework includes a role for ENGOs on technical advisory committees (TACs). TAC members provide advice on monitoring and evaluation activities to date and review new work plans.

    Since December, AWA has been the Alberta Environmental Network (AEN) delegate
    on the Terrestrial Biological Monitoring TAC.

    2015

    Oil Sands Monitoring program (OSM) begins as a collaboration between the Governments of Canada and Alberta. It replaces the previous Joint CanadaAlberta Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) program. The program is created to monitor, evaluate, and report on the environmental impacts of oil sands development in the Oil Sands Region, to assess the risks of impacts, and to improve our understanding of the state of the environment in an open and transparent manner.

    2012

    The Joint CanadaAlberta Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) program begins.

    April 4, 2022

    Destruction of McClelland Lake Wetland Complex Flies in the Face of our Climate Change Commitments

    Wild Lands Advocate article by: Phillip Meintzer, AWA Conservation Specialist Click here for a pdf…

    Read more »

    March 24, 2022

    Alberta Peatlands: A Valued Resource Under Stress

    For those of you who were unable to attend last week’s presentation, we have posted…

    Read more »

    January 5, 2022

    Letter to AER regarding the Fort Hills Oil Sands Project at the McClelland Lake Wetland Complex

    Please click the link below to view AWA’s letter submitted to the Alberta Energy Regulator…

    Read more »

    December 2, 2020

    News Release: Wood Buffalo National Park Conservation Outlook of ‘Significant Concern’

    Indigenous communities and environmental organizations say more action is needed Edmonton, AB – The ongoing…

    Read more »

    December 2, 2020

    Wood Buffalo Action Plan Implementation, Perspective of Local Indigenous Communities and Environmental Groups

    Letter to the Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre concerning Wood Buffalo National Park: December…

    Read more »

    June 3, 2020

    Joint Letter: Alberta Suspends Energy Industry Monitoring Requirements

    In response to Alberta suspending many environmental monitoring obligations of oil sands, oil and gas…

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    April 3, 2020

    AWA Letter: M.O. 17 Suspending Environmental Reporting Requirements

    Honourable Jason Kenney Premier of Alberta premier@gov.ab.ca Honourable Jason Nixon Minister, Alberta Environment and Parks…

    Read more »

    March 31, 2020

    Teck Frontier Oil Sands Mine and Wildlife

    Wild Lands Advocate article by: Carolyn Campbell, AWA Conservation Specialist Click here for a pdf…

    Read more »

    March 31, 2020

    Fork in the Road

    Wild Lands Advocate editorial by: Ian Urquhart, AWA Conservation Staff and Editor of Wild Lands…

    Read more »

    November 23, 2019

    AWA Comments on Teck Frontier Oil Sands Mine

    AWA urges the federal government to reject Teck’s Frontier mine proposal, in a letter submitted…

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    October 11, 2019

    Alberta Energy Regulator Review: AWA Letter to Alberta Government

    Hon. Sonya Savage Minister, Alberta Energy Minister.Energy@gov.ab.ca Hon. Jason Nixon Minister, Alberta Environment and Parks…

    Read more »

    September 1, 2019

    Canada’s Environmental Law: Promises Made versus Promises Kept

    Wild Lands Advocate article by: Joanna Skrajny, AWA Conservation Specialist Click here for a pdf…

    Read more »

With rare exception cattle ranchers have been the best of guardians of the land entrusted to them. May we continue to be conscientious caretakers of this precious resource and hand it on to another generation unspoiled.
- Gerald Brewin, Rancher in the Taber area 1929 - 2016
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