Environmental monitoring suspended for all oil and gas projects in Alberta

Alberta Energy Regulator suspends requirements for environmental monitoring for all energy projects, citing COVID-19 concerns, despite the Government of Alberta rolling out its plans to reopen the rest of the province

Edmonton – Alberta’s Energy Regulator released two unilateral decisions on May 20, 2020, to suspend a series of environmental monitoring activities for all oil & gas operators and in situ operators. These suspensions include monitoring tailings for migratory bird landings, programs to detect and repair methane leaks, testing of surface waters and groundwater, soil monitoring, reclamation monitoring programs, wetland monitoring, and the requirement for lab testing of waters released to the environment.

Most of the activities do not include a date for reinstatement, except two monitoring activities set to resume four months from now.

“When it comes to making difficult decisions in this province, the environment is always the first item on the chopping block,” says Gillian Chow-Fraser, Boreal Program Manager for CPAWS Northern Alberta. “These regulations are supposed to hold our energy sector accountable for their environmental impacts. It sets a dangerous precedent to remove these requirements—even temporarily.”

The AER cites public health concerns due to COVID-19, as these activities require close proximities and sometimes out-of-province contractors. In contrast, it has been deemed safe for oil sands companies to continue their work to produce oil at their facilities.

This is a risky time to relax requirements for monitoring in the oil sands. It is a major migration season, with millions of birds flying directly above the oil sands region. There are lethal consequences for birds that land in tailings areas and come into contact with bitumen. Monitoring is essential to understand where these landings occur, why they occur, and adapt management to prevent these deadly events, especially for species at risk, such as whooping cranes. The monitoring of pollutants and contaminants in the water is necessary to mitigate environmental catastrophes that could negatively impact downstream communities, and the Peace-Athabasca Delta in Wood Buffalo National Park.

“We recognize the need to adapt activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, however, if the provincial government can create safe standards of operation for barbershops and bars, they should develop safe protocols for environmental monitoring, too,” says Chow-Fraser. It is the expectation that our government and energy sector take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of our environment and communities.

CPAWS Northern Alberta will continue to engage on this issue and call for the provincial government to reinstate these regulatory monitoring requirements immediately. 

Read Gillian’s op-ed on the decision to suspend monitoring here: “Opinion: Suspending environmental checks threatens migratory birds”

Read the full decisions by the AER here: Decision 20200520A and Decision 20200520B  


Gillian Chow-Fraser
Boreal Program Manager, CPAWS Northern Alberta

[email protected]