Alberta Under Pressure to Restart Environmental Monitoring for Oil and Gas Operations
A group of seven environmental groups and Indigenous communities in Alberta is pressing the Jason Kenney government to restart environmental monitoring for oil and gas operations and release its criteria for when that work will begin again.
Signatories include the Pembina Institute, the Mikisew Cree First Nation, the Fort Chipewyan Metis, the Smith’s Landing First Nation, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Alberta Wilderness Association, and the Environmental Law Centre, The Canadian Press reports.
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“Restore the requirements or be transparent about what decision-making criteria you’re going to use,” the groups wrote last Wednesday in their missive to the provincial energy and environment departments.
As the province releases guidelines for different businesses to reopen after the pandemic lockdown, Pembina Alberta Regional Director Chris Severson-Baker said the government should do the same for environmental monitoring. “They haven’t articulated a plan,” he told CP. “Our assumption is that there is a plan. We’re pretty interested in understanding [it].”
In May, “the province’s energy regulator suspended a wide array of environmental monitoring requirements in the entire oilpatch that were originally imposed as licence conditions,” the news agency recalls. “The regulator said the decisions were made to protect workers and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
At the time, provincial opposition leader Rachel Notley slammed the government for shutting down environmental monitoring jobs in the midst of an economic downturn. She called the announcement a ‘very bad day for people who care about our air, land, and water,” adding that “the only people it was worse for were the people in Alberta who care about maintaining any kind of job or economic security within the oil and gas sector. It’s Albertans who need the jobs in that sector who will pay the price.”
Under the rollback, “companies no longer have to monitor fumes released by burning, or look for and repair leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Surface water need no longer be tested, unless it escapes into the environment,” CP writes. “Most soil and groundwater monitoring is gone. In-situ oilsands operations no longer have to conduct any wildlife monitoring or research. Reclamation and wetland monitoring is also suspended.”
While some of those activities are due to restart September 30, “most suspensions have no end date.”
Alberta Environment spokesperson Jess Sinclair told CP that deferrals would be reviewed by experts and limited to “low-risk” monitoring. “We continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and these short-term relief measures,” she said. “Work is under way to determine when exemptions will be lifted.”