Issue Brief: Oil Sands Monitoring

Updated: September 10, 2020
The budget for the joint provincial-federal Oil Sands Monitoring Program will be reduced by around 25% this year, citing less field work due to the COVID-19 outbreak. AEN members discussed the budget reduction on a call on August 26 and are seeking clarification from the Oil Sands Monitoring Program.

On September 4, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation Secretariat released their report on Alberta's oil sands tailings ponds. Amongst other findings, the report found that there is sicentific evidence of seepage of tailings pond water into groundwater, and found a lack evidence that the Federal and Provincial governments were coordinating to provide effective enforcement or management around the tailings ponds.

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About the Oil Sands Monitoring Program

The Oil Sands Monitoring (OSM) Program was started in February 2012 to assess the cumulative effects related to the development of oil sands in Alberta. The program combined and extended previous regional monitoring programs and is jointly implemented and managed by the governments of Alberta and Canada.

The goals of the OSM program are:

  • Track impacts from oil sands development
  • Conduct comprehensive and inclusive monitoring
  • Inform management and regulatory action
  • Ensure relevant monitoring
  • Implement rigorous monitoring
  • Be cost-effective
  • Inform transboundary issues
  • Ensure transparency
  • Incorporate Indigenous and community-based monitoring

Workplans with planned monitoring activities are developed annually (for April 1 to March 31), and activities are reported in annual reports (see the latest annual report for 2018-19).


The governance structure of the Oil Sands Monitoring Program was adjusted in 2018-19 to increase participation of Indigenous communities in the governance of the program and increase Indigenous community-based monitoring. Monitoring is then carried out by government agencies, independent monitoring contractors and industry.



Funding for the Oil Sands Monitoring Program comes from oil sands operators ($50 million per year) and is distributed to government agencies and monitoring groups as per approved annual work plans. The federal government also contributes up to $2 million every year for Indigenous designed and led community based monitoring.

Approved: $48.7 million
Expenditures: $39 million
$9.7 million deferred revenue due the result of the Fort McMurray-area wildfires affecting planned monitoring activities.

Approved: $49.1 million
Expenditures: $47 million

Approved: $60.4 million
Expenditures: $52.5 million
Additional $10 million for the approved budget came from underspending and deferred revenue from previous years.

Approved: $43.9 million (approved June 30, 2020)