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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Alberta aims to streamline permit process for the oil sands

The Alberta government and Canada's oil sands industry have combined to create a new plan which would allow companies engaged in oil sands work to gain environmental permission for certain types of projects. 

The rule change would mean impact assessment done about a project to see what environmental impact the oil sands project would have, may no longer be required for "situ oil sands projects". Instead, industry would agree to abide by a "code of practice," similar to the rules governing companies that drill wells for conventional light oil. 

Because in situ projects use wells rather than open-pit mines to extract bitumen, the industry has argued they are similar to light oil projects, and should be approved similarly. To gain approval for an in situ project today, companies must go through the same environmental process as mines. 

A change in rules could have a major impact on the oil sands industry, which expects to use in situ methods to extract 80 per cent of Alberta's 173 billion barrels in oil sands reserves. 

Critics of the Alberta Government proposal indicate that existing environmental standards will be compromised, just so a more efficient system to help oil sands technology companies can exist. 

Once again the Government of Alberta is willing to compromise the health of Albertans for the sake of the profits of 
oil companies and companies involved in oil sands research and the extraction of oil sands. Why should the government  trust the oil companies view of "situ oil projects"?

According to the article:

Environmental Impacts of Oil Sands Development in Alberta

Written by Simon Dyer at

"In situ development could occur in an area approximately 30 times greater than the mining area. This type of development creates significant linear disturbance to the boreal forest. These linear disturbances, from seismic and core hole exploration, production well pads, roads and pipelines, can negatively impact species of wildlife that avoid linear features, such as the endangered woodland caribou."

"In situ development is less water intensive at approximately 0.9 barrels of wate
r per barrel of oil, yet this is still higher than water use for conventional oil production,
 which averages 0.1-0.3 barrels of water per barrel of oil.In situ operations produce 
steam from fresh and saline water sources that is then injected to “help reduce the 
viscosity" (melt) the bitumen in the reservoir so it can be pumped out. Wastewater
 produced by in situ development is not contained in tailings ponds, but rather
 injected into deep aquifers on site."

"The liquid tailings, a by product of the oil sands mining process, contain 
naphthenic acids, unrecovered hydrocarbons and trace metals, making it toxic to aquatic organisms and mammals"

"There are currently over 720 billion litres of toxic tailings on the landscape in the
 Athabasca oil sands area. These ponds cover an area of more than 130 square
 kilometres. By 2040 these tailings are expected to occupy 310 square kilometres, 
an area nearly the size of Vancouver. No tailings ponds have been reclaimed to date.!!"

  The Government of Alberta needs to read the document "
 Taking the Wheel:Correcting the Course of Cumulative Environmental Management in the
 Athabasca Oil Sands"  " 

published by the
Pembina Institute.

In this document, it is stated:
"there remain large gaps in many critical areas of
environmental management. Some of the key gaps include the following:
• No land use plan
that protects wildlife and regional ecosystems. • No lower limit on flows of
the Athabasca River below which oil sands water withdrawals would be 
prohibited. In 2005, approximately 349 million cubic metres of water
from the Athabasca River were licensed for oil sands mining operations.

Alberta Environment led the formation of a new multistakeholder organization
that came to be known as the Cumulative Environmental Management Association
(CEMA) in 2000.CEMA’s Sustainable Ecosystems Working Group (SEWG) 
was charged with recommending a 
management framework for the conservation of terrestrial ecosystems
and wildlife in the development.
It took the SEWG eight years to recommend a management framework 
to protect terrestrial ecosystems. Submitted 
in June 2008, the completed framework requires 20–40% of the RMWB
to be permanently protected from industrial
development.25 In the time that the SEWG took to develop the framework,
much of the land proposed to be
protected has been leased for oil sands development. The government
continues to issue oil sands leases today.
In 2000, when SEWG began its work, there were substantial opportunities
for the establishment of protected zones in the RMWB that would enable 
oil sands development and environmental protection to co-exist, as 
envisioned by the RSDS. Since 2000, a significant increase in the 
sales of oil sands rights, through auctions every two weeks, has
greatly diminished opportunities for the establishment of protected zones.

CEMA’s Sustainable Ecosystems Working Group (SEWG) was
charged with recommending a management framework for the 
conservation of terrestrial ecosystems and wildlife in the Regional 
Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Approximately 60% of the Muskeg River watershed, a sub-basin
of the Athabasca River
watershed, is underlain by surface mineable oil sands deposits,
and much of the remainder are
underlain by deeper deposits accessible using in situ technologies.
As a result, significant interest
in developing the watershed exists. Despite the Muskeg River
Watershed’s economic potential,
its important ecological values were recognized in the 1999.

Watersheds are fundamentally altered by oil sands development
because mines require the diversion or drainage of surface waters
and alter natural flows. To access the oil sands deposits that are
close enough to the surface to be strip-mined, large operations
must clear many square kilometres of the boreal landscape. Rivers
are diverted, wetlands are drained, and the forest is clear-cut before
mining can even begin. Toxic tailings management is an additional
challenge that presents long-term risks. It has been noted that
precipitation or weather extremes in a region can jeopardize tailings
or other containment structures creating the potential for a large
, uncontrolled release of toxic materials into a watershed."

Perverse incentives are an important factor contributing to CEMA’s poor
performance to date.42 The Pembina Institute’s experience as a
founding member of CEMA has led it to believe that preserving
the status quo — proceeding with oil sands development rapidly
and without proper environmental impact assessment, mitigation
and management — is favoured by those who benefit from it.
These beneficiaries are the oil sands companies and a government
that has clearly placed rapid oil sands development before
environmental protection through responsible development.

The authors of this report conclude by stating:

"We believe that the GOC and GOA can no longer delay establishing
protective interim limits for the full range of air pollutants and toxics,
water use, water pollution, land disturbance, tailings, and reclamation.
Precautionary interim limits can and should be set immediately based
on current knowledge and information. Ongoing multi-stakeholder
engagement in the absence of protective interim limits has proven
to be ineffective."
"A temporary suspension on new approvals is in the best interest
of Albertans until there is an environmental management system
that includes protective limits. Key aboriginal stakeholders
(Treaties 6, 7 and 8), prominent academic professionals and
numerous environmental organizations have all called for a
moratorium on oil sands development."
"The current oil sands tenure regime is a major contribu to
r to the environmental and social problems facing oil sands
development. It contributes to the failure of CEMA to develop effective
and timely management recommendations that will protect the
environment. A temporary suspension on new oil sands lease
sales until environmental limits are established in the Athabasca
Boreal Region is essential."

" fundamental yet missing ingredient for effective environmental
management in the oil sands region is an integrated, regional plan.
As previously discussed, the RSDS was not implemented and is now
obsolete. The proposed North East Regional Plan, to be nested
within the Alberta Land-use Framework,80 has the potential to
serve as an effective instrument that would guide management
decisions by linking directly to existing policy and legislation and by
drawing from established ecological thresholds. A regional plan
for the oil sands region needs to equally consider the social,
environmental and economic implications of development.
The plan should
set clear objectives with timelines and milestones that are publicly
transparent through regular
reporting. Implementing the plan through either existing or new laws
that include a clear statement of principles and objectives will ensure
it is binding in future land use decisions. Clearly, any new
environmental management systems must be integrated with
existing plans and laws to avoid duplication or contradiction.
This same approach to regional planning is needed in the Peace/
Cold Lake areas in advance of increased development. This report
focuses on the Athabasca Boreal Region because of the intense
developmental pressures it currently faces. Regardless of the
planning system chosen, there is an urgent need to pause new
approvals and lease sales until environmental rules are in place."

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.