Environmental Groups Pull Out of Multi-stakeholder Oil Sands Process

Outline key steps for government to restore credibility to environmental management

18 Aug 2008

Today the Pembina Institute, the Toxics Watch Society of Alberta and the Fort McMurray Environmental Association (FMEA) formally withdrew from the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA). After eight years of effort and consistent failure to meet deadlines for recommending systems to protect the region’s environment, CEMA has lost all legitimacy as an organization and process for environmental management in the oil sands.

“The Alberta Government has taken a ‘talk and drill’ approach to developing the oil sands. It has squandered an opportunity to get effective environmental management in place ahead of serious on-the-ground cumulative impacts. Now it must play catch up,” said Chris Severson-Baker, Policy Director with the Pembina Institute and former CEMA Board Member.

As founding members of CEMA, the multi-stakeholder organization initiated by the Government of Alberta to recommend environmental management systems in the Athabasca oil sands, the Pembina Institute, Toxics Watch and FMEA made significant efforts to advance environmental management within CEMA. Those efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful. Further, the Government of Alberta’s ongoing approval of oil sands projects in the absence of sufficient environmental management — and its lack of senior leadership — fundamentally undermined CEMA's mandate.

“Frankly speaking, we can no longer legitimize a process that both the oil sands industry and government have been using as a shield to deflect criticism about the cumulative environmental impacts of oil sands development,” said Myles Kitagawa, a director with the Toxics Watch Society. “We urgently need to set science-based environmental limits before approving new oil sands development.”

Recognizing the urgent need for environmental management and the benefits of engaging stakeholders, including Aboriginal groups, environmental organizations and the oil sands industry, the Pembina Institute, Toxics Watch and FMEA have put forward recommendations for a new multi-stakeholder approach to environmental management:

  • Suspend new oil sands approvals and lease sales until interim environmental limits and management systems are in place.

  • Convene a panel of experts to identify interim science-based environmental limits.

  • Draft environmental management systems with First Nations governments and the Government of Canada.

  • Re-constitute CEMA with

    • balanced, sector-based representation, not dominated by industry;

    • full participation from government decision-making agencies;

    • scheduled deliverables;

    • consensus-based decisions when appropriate;

    • strict procedural rules for documenting discussion and decision-making.

  • Engage this reconstituted multi-stakeholder organization in a review of draft management systems with a firm deadline.

  • Present recommendations to the governments of Alberta, Canada and the five Athabasca-region First Nations for implementation.

“To restore its credibility and legitimacy with stakeholders the Alberta Government must acknowledge that the current approach is fundamentally broken,” said Simon Dyer, Oil Sands Program Director with the Pembina Institute.

The above recommendations are more fully described in a new report by the Pembina Institute, Taking the Wheel: Correcting the Course of Cumulative Environmental Management in the Athabasca Oil Sands. The report can be downloaded from www.oilsandswatch.org.


For further information, please contact: 

Simon Dyer, Director - Oil Sands Program
The Pembina Institute
Cell: 403-322-3937

Chris Severson-Baker, Policy Director
The Pembina Institute
Cell: 403-899-7423

Ann Dort-McLean, President
Fort McMurray Environmental Association
Office: 780-790-9236

Myles Kitagawa, Director
Toxics Watch Society of Alberta
Office: 780-907-1231