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Environment Parks

Canada-Alberta Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring




The oil sands are an important resource to Albertans and of interest to all Canadians and the international community. Rapid oil sands development in recent years has led to widespread concerns about their environmental impacts and the need to better understand these impacts.

In February 2012 the governments of Alberta and Canada committed to implementing a scientifically rigorous, comprehensive and transparent environmental monitoring program for the oil sands.1 The program’s purpose is to understand the cumulative effects of oil sands development and obtain evidence to determine whether the development is environmentally responsible. Improvements to environmental monitoring in the oil sands will also provide a starting point for implementing Alberta-wide environmental monitoring.3 The joint plan describes how the two governments will improve monitoring over a three-year period (2012–2015). The two governments agreed that oil sands operators will bear the cost of the enhanced monitoring by providing up to $50 million annually in the first three years of the program.

The plan describes specific projects the two governments agreed to carry out over the next three years. It also describes their commitments to ensure the program is accountable, credible and transparent. A key commitment is annual reporting to the public on the governments’ progress with implementing the plan.

What we examined

Our audit objective was to assess the nature and quality of the first annual report (2012–2013) on the joint plan for monitoring oil sands development. We also assessed whether the results the two governments shared in the report were complete and verifiable, based on evidence that was sufficient and appropriate. To assess the quality of that evidence, we looked at the processes the department used in 2012–2013 to manage the projects for which it was responsible.

What we found

The governments of Alberta and Canada jointly released their first annual report long after the information it contained was current.
The report for 2012–2013 was released in June 2014, 15 months after the March 31, 2013 end of the first year. The 2013–2014 report on the second year of implementation has not yet been released.
The report lacked clarity and key information and contained inaccuracies. The report was not clear on:
  • whether overall implementation of the plan was on track
  • which of the projects committed to for 2012–2013 were completed, partly completed or not completed
  • what remained to be done to implement the governments’ key commitments

Why this is important to Albertans

Timely, transparent and verifiable public reporting allows Albertans to know if the Government of Alberta is meeting its commitments and whether the implementation of the enhanced monitoring in the oil sands is on track.

Without effective project management, the joint plan is at risk of not being completed on time and not meeting its objectives. This may jeopardize AEMERA’s ability to monitor the cumulative effects of oil sands development and report to Albertans on the condition of Alberta’s environment in the oil sands and when impacts on the environment exceed accepted limits.
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