Alberta suspends environmental monitoring rules for oilsands over COVID concerns

Alberta suspends environmental monitoring rules for oilsands over COVID concerns

Alberta suspends environmental monitoring rules for oilsands over COVID concerns

EDMONTON — The Alberta Energy Regulator has suspended a wide array of environmental monitoring requirements for oilsands companies over public-health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision, released earlier this week, means that Imperial Oil, Suncor, Syncrude and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. don’t have to perform much of the testing and monitoring originally required in their licences.

The move comes on top of an earlier order from Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon that suspended environmental reporting requirements for all industry.

The latest exemptions specifically relieve operators of having to monitor most ground and surface water, unless it enters the environment. Almost all wildlife and bird monitoring is suspended.

Air-quality programs, including one for the First Nations community of Fort McKay, have been reduced, along with many other conditions of the companies’ licences. Testing for leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has been suspended.

Wetlands monitoring and research is gone until further notice. Water that escapes from storm ponds no longer must be tested.

The regulator says some programs are to resume by the end of September, but most have no restart date.

Regulator spokesman Shawn Roth said in an email Wednesday that essential monitoring remains intact.

“Surveillance and monitoring by operators and the AER continues to ensure safe and responsible operations of all facilities,” he wrote.

“Companies must continue to collect the majority of monitoring information they did previously and provide it to the AER upon request.”

Companies must still monitor dams, said Roth. Bird deterrents for tailings ponds remain in place, although at least 50 birds died this week at an Imperial tailings site.

Roth said the suspensions are likely to remain in place as long as there are other COVID-related orders under the Public Health Act, although some of the exemptions have an end date of Sept. 30.

The regulator did not make anyone available for an interview.

Earlier this week, the federal government allowed industry to delay reporting of greenhouse gas emissions to July 31 from June 1.

Shaun Fluker, a University of Calgary law professor who follows oilpatch regulation, said the catalogue of exemptions is similar to the longtime wish list of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

“The AER and these companies have been having these discussions for a long time,” he said.

“It starts to look more like the pandemic is being used as an opportunity to grant relief that we would never see as acceptable in normal times.”

He said the move virtually negates Alberta’s environmental laws, since enforcement depends on industry monitoring data.

Other observers were stunned by the exemptions.

“Everything we’ve done for the last 12 years … they’ve just scrapped all that,” said Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “I’ve got no faith in the AER.”

Mandy Olsgard, a consultant who was the regulator’s senior environmental toxicologist until 2017, said she was shocked by the unilateral decision.

She said it will disrupt the continuous monitoring records that the original licence conditions demanded. A gap of a few months could render an entire year’s data useless, she said.

Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada likened the move to “taking the battery out of your smoke alarms so you can get a good night’s sleep.”

He said Greenpeace isn’t aware of any other jurisdiction in the world that has gone as far as Alberta to roll back environmental protections during the pandemic, including the United States under President Donald Trump.

“(Alberta Premier Jason) Kenney is out-Trumping Trump,” Stewart said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2020

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Oilsands

Just Posted

Shanna Lydiard complains that her mail hasn’t been delivered for over 10 weeks due to water main construction on her West Park block. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Residents of Red Deer street have no mail delivery for 10-plus weeks

Shanna Lydiard says she doesn’t trust the city’s promises

FILE - Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced that Albertans could start booking second dose shots of the COVID-19 vaccine starting Tuesday night. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Public measures will be lifted: Alberta will enter Stage 3 on Canada Day

Alberta will enter Stage 3 of its Open for Summer Plan on… Continue reading

A massive round dance, involving hundreds of people at Bower Ponds, was a highlight of Canada Day celebrations in 2000. (Contributed photo).
Fireworks without a Canada Day celebration is planned for July 1 in Red Deer

Many residents aren’t in a festive mood, with recent Indigenous graves discovery

Students’ Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen says the government needs to be transparent about why RDC doesn’t have degrees yet. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Brittany Lausen earns RDC Outstanding Student Award

Student’s Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen has been named… Continue reading

Gabe Cuthand, Brandon McDonald, Dean Johnson and Dakota Dion drumming during a past Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at City Hall Park in Red Deer (Advocate file photo).
Indigenous Peoples Day will be celebrated online on Monday in Red Deer

National Indigenous Peoples Day will be celebrated in Red Deer on Monday… Continue reading

A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a sign during a rally in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Iran's clerical vetting committee has allowed just seven candidates for the Friday, June 18, ballot, nixing prominent reformists and key allies of President Hassan Rouhani. The presumed front-runner has become Ebrahim Raisi, the country's hard-line judiciary chief who is closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iran votes in presidential poll tipped in hard-liner’s favor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranians voted Friday in a presidential… Continue reading

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, left, and President Seiko Hashimoto attend the news conference after receiving a report from a group of infectious disease experts on Friday, June 18, 2021, in Tokyo. The experts including Shigeru Omi, head of a government coronavirus advisory panel, issued a report listing the risks of allowing the spectators and the measurements to prevent the event from triggering a coronavirus spread. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool Photo via AP)
Top medical adviser says ‘no fans’ safest for Tokyo Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — The safest way to hold the Tokyo Olympics is… Continue reading

FILE - In this June 12, 2021, file photo, Rajkumar Haryani, 38, who painted his body to create awareness about vaccination against the coronavirus poses for photographs after getting a dose of Covishield vaccine in Ahmedabad, India. Starting June 21, 2021, every Indian adult can get a COVID-19 vaccine dose for free that was purchased by the federal government. The policy reversal announced last week ends a complex system of buying vaccines that worsened inequities in accessing vaccines. India is a key global supplier of vaccines and its missteps have left millions of people waiting unprotected. The policy change is likely to address inequality but questions remain and shortages will continue. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki, File)
How India is changing vaccine plan amid shortages

NEW DELHI (AP) — Starting Monday, every adult in India will be… Continue reading

Chief of Defence staff General Jonathan Vance speaks during a news conference to , in Ottawa Tuesday August 30, 2016. The Canadian Armed Forces says it is making progress in the fight against sexual misconduct in the ranks, but much more work needs to be done. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Freeze promotions until military commanders are screened for misconduct: Committee

OTTAWA — A parliamentary committee has called for a freeze on all… Continue reading

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Hussen says he is looking to municipalities to reshape local rules to more quickly build units through the government's national housing strategy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Cities should redo planning, permitting to align with housing strategy, minister says

OTTAWA — The federal minister in charge of affordable housing says he… Continue reading

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. On June 1, NACI had said AstraZeneca recipients "could" get Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for their second shot if they wanted, but Thursday went further to say an mRNA vaccine was the "preferred" choice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

When Gwenny Farrell booked her second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine… Continue reading

Brooklyn Nets' James Harden, right, is guarded by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, center, during the first half of Game 6 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Bucks bounce back to defeat Nets 104-89 and force Game 7

MILWAUKEE — Khris Middleton scored 38 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 30 and… Continue reading

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) brings the puck up the ice against the New York Islanders during the third period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinals, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Uniondale, N.Y. Tampa Bay won 2-1.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Point scores again, Lightning beat Islanders 2-1 in Game 3

Lightning 2 Islanders 1 (Tampa Bay leads series 2-1) UNIONDALE, N.Y. —… Continue reading

Most Read