Audit at a Glance—Chapter 2—Environmental Monitoring of Oil Sands
Audit at a Glance
Chapter 2—Environmental Monitoring of Oil Sands
What we examined (see Focus of the audit)
The objective of this audit was to determine whether Environment Canada implemented its responsibilities under the Joint Canada–Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring according to established timelines and budgets, and the objectives and approaches set out in the Joint Plan. The audit focused on the Department’s implementation of work plans for the 2013–14 fiscal year and on the development of work plans for the 2014–15 fiscal year. The audit covered the period between February 2012 and April 2014.
What we found
Overall we found that, under the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring, work plans identified Environment Canada’s responsibilities and included budgets and timelines for deliverables. In light of the complexity and costs associated with establishing a comprehensive monitoring program for the oil sands, concrete work plans make it more likely that the program will achieve its objectives. We also found that further efforts are needed to meet commitments to engage stakeholders, including First Nations and Métis, and incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge into the Department’s monitoring activities. Effective stakeholder engagement is critical to the monitoring program’s relevance, credibility, implementation and operation.
Work plans identify responsibilities and include budgets and timelines for deliverables (see paragraphs 2.22-2.26)
Further efforts are needed to meet commitments to engage stakeholders (see paragraphs 2.27-2.32)
Integration of Traditional Ecological Knowledge into Environment Canada’s monitoring activities is limited (see paragraphs 2.33-2.35)
Implementing monitoring projects
Overall, we found that Environment Canada implemented most of the projects we examined according to established timelines. We also found that the Department is in the early stages of integrating monitoring results across air, water and biodiversity. Integration is important for understanding cumulative environmental effects of oil sands development.
Most projects we examined are being implemented according to schedule (see paragraphs 2.37-2.41)
Environment Canada is in the early stages of integrating monitoring results across air, water, and biodiversity components (see paragraphs 2.42-2.45)
Annual reporting has not been timely (see paragraph 2.46)
Determining future roles
Although Environment Canada currently plays an important role in oil sands monitoring, we found that its involvement in monitoring after 31 March 2015 is not clear. This finding is important because work remains to fully implement the Joint Plan, ranging from engaging First Nations and Métis to incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge to integrating monitoring information across the air, water, and biodiversity components. If Environment Canada is to fulfill its monitoring responsibilities under the Joint Plan, it is important that the Department allocate the resources necessary to complete its remaining work.
The Department’s post-2015 role in oil sands monitoring is unclear (see paragraphs 2.48-2.51)
Recommendation. Environment Canada, in partnership with the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency, should identify potential options to build on the foundation of the Joint Canada–Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring, to have a world-class monitoring program past 2015, with due consideration for the extent and nature of the Department’s future involvement.
Recommendation. Environment Canada, in consultation with the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency, should:
- work with First Nations and Métis communities to develop an engagement approach and to integrate Traditional Ecological Knowledge into the monitoring of oil sands;
- develop a strategy for integrating monitoring data across air, water, and biodiversity components; and
- issue annual reports on progress in implementing the Joint Plan according to an established release schedule.
Environment Canada agrees with our recommendations, and has responded (see List of Recommendations).
Why we did this audit
Alberta’s oil sands are a strategic natural resource and a key driver of economic development for Canada. The oil sands cover roughly 142,200 square kilometres in the Athabasca River, Cold Lake, and Peace River regions of the province—about the size of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick combined. The first large-scale oil sands commercial operation began in 1967. According to the provincial ministry Alberta Energy, as of July 2014, 132 oil sands projects were operating in Alberta.
In 2010 and 2011, the governments of Canada and Alberta commissioned independent reviews of the adequacy of oil sands monitoring. These reviews were prompted by growing concerns domestically and internationally about the environmental impact of the oil sands and conflicting scientific opinions regarding their impact. The reviews identified significant shortcomings in oil sands monitoring.
In February 2012, the governments of Canada and Alberta committed to establishing a joint monitoring program for the oil sands. The program aims to enhance understanding of cumulative effects and environmental change related to oil sands development. It also aims to guide environmentally responsible development of the resource.
Details of the audit
|Report of the||Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development|
|Type of product||Performance audit|
|Audited entities||Environment Canada|
|Completion date||1 August 2014|
|Tabling date||7 October 2014|
|Related audits||Chapter 2—Assessing Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil Sands Projects, 2011 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development|
For more information
Manager, Media Relations
Tel.: 613 952 0213, extension 6292
The Commissioner’s Comments
Monitoring of oil sands is underway but work is required to engage stakeholders and determine Environment Canada’s future role