Weakened policy risks destroying thousands of hectares of Alberta wetlands

Policy ignores input of advisory group and Albertans

CALGARY, AB - After years of delays, the Alberta government has dismissed the no-net-loss recommendation of its own advisory group and is proposing a complex wetland policy that risks the permanent loss of thousands of hectares of wetlands.

Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner confirmed the shift today to a group of stakeholders in Calgary.

This flies in the face of the recommendations made by the government-supported multi-stakeholder group, the Alberta Water Council, which clearly recommended Alberta adopt a no-net-loss policy for wetlands — a policy that would mean for every hectare of wetland lost to development such as oilsands mining, at least one other hectare would be restored.

"We were incredibly disappointed to see the government taking a step backwards with this policy direction and weakening the current policy to allow for loss of wetlands," said Joe Obad, co-director of Water Matters. "The Alberta Water Council had a great process in which members of the team worked for three years to come up with trade-offs that everyone could live with — and the government has ignored that."

While Alberta still has no province-wide wetland policy, a no-net-loss policy for wetlands has been used in settled portions of Alberta since 1993, and is considered the strongest and most effective way to protect wetlands. No-net-loss is used in jurisdictions around the world including the United States, which has been taking a growing interest in the environmental impacts of oil sands development.

Despite the support of 23 industry, environmental and community sectors, the recommendation was blocked by only two stakeholders — the Alberta Chamber of Resources and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, both representing the oilsands industry — who claimed a no-net-loss approach was cost prohibitive, without presenting any evidence publicly to support this claim.

"Alberta appears to have caved in to lobbying by the oilsands sector, which argues that this is too expensive, while our numbers show that full replacement of wetlands could cost very little of what the companies spend to produce a barrel of oil," said Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association. In a 2007 public consultation, 90 per cent of total respondents, including 79 per cent of industry respondents, agreed with a proposed policy to "maintain or increase wetland area in Alberta."

Alberta's oilsands mines are projected to destroy 56,000 hectares of wetlands by 2025. In situ wetland destruction is unknown, but much could be avoided by a no-net-loss wetland policy.

"With this new watered-down wetland protection plan, the government's credibility as an environmental manager in the oilsands is further damaged," said Terra Simieritsch, Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute.



  • Joe Obad
    Associate Director, Water Matters
  • Carolyn Campbell
    Conservation Specialist, Alberta Wilderness Association
  • Terra Simieritsch
    Technical and Policy Analyst, Oil Sands, Pembina Institute
    403-269-3344 ext 102