A haul truck carrying a full load drives away from a mining shovel at the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine near Fort McMurray, Alta., Wednesday, July 9, 2008. Alberta lost more jobs last year than in any year since the 1982 recession, revised numbers from Statistics Canada show. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

First Nations worried by suspension of oilsands environmental monitoring

First Nations worried by suspension of oilsands environmental monitoring

EDMONTON — The leader of a First Nation surrounded by oilsands development is frustrated by the Alberta Energy Regulator’s decision to suspend a wide array of environmental reporting requirements.

“We are surprised and disappointed there was no effort to consult us on this decision,” said a release from Mel Grandjamb, chief of the Fort McKay First Nation.

Grandjamb points out the regulator’s new boss, Laurie Pushor, has emphasized in recent interviews that he wants to rebuild trust in the agency and improve its relations with Indigenous communities.

“It is unfortunate that aspiration has not translated into actually talking to those communities deeply affected by AER decisions,” he wrote Thursday.

Fort McKay, north of Fort McMurray in the heart of the oilsands, is surrounded on three sides by development. Its concerns about the impact of that are long-standing.

The regulator has relieved Imperial Oil, Syncrude, Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources of the responsibility to meet environmental monitoring conditions in their operating licences.

In an email, regulator spokesman Shawn Roth said the situation with COVID-19 was moving quickly and the agency had to respond to industry requests.

“We do not have the option of relying on a best-case scenario for our province to recover from COVID-19,” he said.

Conditions suspended include on-site monitoring studies under the Fort McKay Air Quality and Odours Project. Odour assessment and communication protocols already in place are to remain.

Other exemptions include most monitoring of ground and surface water, unless it enters the environment.

Almost all wildlife and bird monitoring, often done by remote cameras, is suspended, as is testing for leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

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

Some programs are to resume by the end of September, but most have no restart date.

Roth said essential monitoring continues.

“Companies are still required to collect monitoring data and we continue to provide oversight of energy-related operations. Companies must report emergencies … that have or may have the potential to impact public safety or the environment.”

The moves were needed, said Suncor spokeswoman Erin Rees.

“We made requests to the AER to postpone some monitoring in order to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 and specifically to ensure public-health guidance is respected.

“All requests for postponement of monitoring were due to the number of people required to perform the work, impacting our ability to ensure physical distancing.”

Grandjamb said Fort McKay understands the need for adjustments. Still, he’s skeptical.

“We also have questions about the length of these ‘temporary exemptions’ and would like more clarity about a return to responsible environmental monitoring.”

Grandjamb said some operators have assured him that monitoring will continue.

“We hope they remain committed to sharing that data in light of the AER’s decision.”

Alberta Energy spokesman Kavi Bal said the regulator’s decisions are supported by an order from minister Sonya Savage.

“Temporary suspensions will result in minor impacts to data … or a delay in some auditing activities,” he wrote in an email. “Monitoring a bit less frequently for a period of time will not hamper the regulator’s ability to understand long-term trends and impacts.”

Grandjamb isn’t the only Indigenous leader with concerns. Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said Wednesday the regulator’s decision threw out 12 years of work.

“It just seems like they’ve put all that to waste,” he said.

Adam said the regulator’s decisions may lead to more legal action by First Nations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2020

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Oilsands

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Maskwacis reporting 37 active cases

Numbers current as of Oct. 19

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Photo submitted/ Millet In Bloom
Town of Millet declared Best Blooming Community

The Town of Millet is being recognized for their efforts to meet the challenges of 2020.

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

(The Canadian Press)
Alberta-raised Cree actor lands role in Disney’s live-action ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’

Tiger Lily is featured in Disney’s 1953 animated “Peter Pan” film

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. The Alberta government is welcoming news that Ottawa has approved an expansion of the Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gathering system in Alberta — while condemning federal delays that it says cost this summer’s construction season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta welcomes federal approval of gas pipeline expansion while criticizing delay

Pipeline division owned by Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. will now be required to restore 3,840 hectares of caribou habitat,

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

Alberta Premier Jason Kenny and government house leader Jason Nixon chat before the speech from the throne delivered in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Alberta politicians are to return to the legislature Tuesday with a plan to discuss up to 20 new bills — many of which are focused on the province’s economic recovery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta legislature to resume Tuesday; focus to be on economic recovery

Opposition house leader Heather Sweet said the NDP will focus on holding Premier Jason Kenney

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read