August 12, 2020

Nixon: Setting the record straight on oilsands monitoring in Alberta

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon speaks to media in Calgary on Feb. 7, 2020. JIM WELLS / Postmedia, file

Recent media articles have spread misinformation about the Oil Sands Monitoring Program and I want to set the record straight about its funding and how we make decisions.

Environmental monitoring programs help protect our air, water, land and wild species. As a world energy producer, Alberta needs to balance our diverse energy sector with strict environmental rules and oversight.

Alberta’s government doesn’t make unilateral decisions when it comes to oilsands monitoring. Decisions, including proposed budget and monitoring work plans, are made by a committee of six Indigenous community representatives, industry, and the provincial and federal governments. 

Since the program started, it’s been funded by industry. The $43.9 million allocated for 2020-21 reflects the expected costs of monitoring to assure public and environmental health, long-term monitoring, and focused activities for air, water, wetlands, wildlife and vegetation monitoring.

It’s not correct to characterize the funding as a cut as some have done. In fact, it’s on par with actual spending from previous years — ranging from $40 million in 2015-16 to $51 million in 2018-19. The funding this year reflects what’s actually doable during a global pandemic while acknowledging that about three months of fieldwork was lost due to health and safety reasons. Just like the Fort McMurray-area wildfires of 2016, when the monitoring spend was $39 million, COVID-19 has affected the ability to conduct monitoring activities while safeguarding the health and safety of workers, communities and the public. There were no long-term effects from a temporary monitoring pause during 2016. 

Suggesting that $10 million of the approved work plan is purely administrative costs is also inaccurate. This $10 million goes toward providing Indigenous communities with capacity funding to support their participation in the program, analysis and reporting of data, and operating our data systems.

We also have a joint agreement to monitor and manage water that ends up in the Mackenzie River Basin, fed in part, from Alberta waterways. The funding allocated to oilsands monitoring this year also helps ensure that downstream communities, like those in the Northwest Territories, are informed about the cumulative effects of oilsands operations in Alberta. I’m pleased to report that we’ve satisfactorily met our monitoring and reporting responsibilities for our border transboundary stations every year since the agreement was first signed in 2015 and we will make every effort to ensure we do so again this year.

Our joint ongoing commitment to work with partners and stakeholders ensures our world-class monitoring system is able to provide clear and scientifically rigorous, cohesive and transparent information on oilsands environmental impacts.

Without these strong partnerships with Indigenous communities and industry, this monitoring program would not be possible. We will continue to work together to ensure oilsands development is carried out safely and responsibly.

Jason Nixon is the Alberta minister of the environment.

https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/nixon-setting-the-record-straight-on-oilsands-monitoring-in-alberta

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