Canada: Alberta Releases Draft Regional Plan for Athabasca Oil Sands Region

Copyright 2011, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP

Originally published in Blakes Bulletin on Environmental Law, April 2011

On Tuesday, April 5, 2011, the Government of Alberta released its long-awaited draft Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) together with draft regulations and management frameworks for the establishment of specific air emissions, surface water quality and groundwater conditions within the Lower Athabasca Region.

This article provides a brief overview of the role of a regional plan and then discusses the specifics of the draft LARP and associated documentation, particularly as they pertain to environmental issues.

What is a Regional Plan and Why is it Important?

In October 2009, the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (LSA) was proclaimed. The LSA notionally divides Alberta into seven regions and establishes the legal basis for the development of plans for each region. Regional plans enable the province to address issues that are specific to a particular area. Under the LSA, regional plans are legislative instruments akin to regulations. Each regional plan must include a vision as well as one or more objectives that are specific to that region. Regional plans are binding on the Crown, including government agencies, departments, boards, etc., and all other persons. As a result, all persons operating within a region in which a plan has been adopted need to pay close attention to the contents of the plan.

The adoption of regional plans represents a shift by Alberta towards a cumulative effects management system approach. This shift is being made in an effort to balance economic development opportunities with social and environmental considerations for different regions. A cumulative effects management system approach involves setting outcomes and objectives along with determining strategies and actions necessary to achieve the outcomes. It also requires integrated monitoring, evaluation and reporting systems.

Due to the notoriety associated with the development of the oil sands, the government made a conscious decision to ensure that the regional plan affecting the majority of the oil sands was the first plan to be developed. That stated, it has been a long time coming. Alberta initially released the terms of reference for developing the LARP in July 2009 (Terms of Reference). This was followed in August 2010 by advice from the Regional Advisory Council (RAC) for the Lower Athabasca Region (RAC Advice). The release of the draft LARP is the latest progression towards the adoption of a final LARP.

What does the draft LARP encompass?

Highlights of the draft LARP include the following:

  • Existing conservation areas will increase from 6% of the region's land base to 22%, representing a total of approximately 20,000 sq. km or two million hectares.
  • Ten new recreation areas will be designated that will encompass approximately 2% of the region's land base representing a total of approximately 1,860 sq. km or 186,000 hectares. Note: Although the draft LARP states that the 10 new recreation areas will be designated, the draft regulations state that the "recreation areas may be established by the government as budgets and resources permit" (emphasis ours). It is therefore unclear at this time how definite the 10 new recreation areas actually are.
  • Existing oil sands and mining agreements within the proposed conservation areas or recreation areas will be rescinded and existing leaseholders will be compensated in accordance with existing legislation.
  • Existing conventional petroleum and natural gas agreements and recreation leases within the proposed conservation areas or recreation areas will not be rescinded.
  • Some conservation areas may allow for a limited level of disturbance-based vegetation management (i.e., logging, prescribed fires).
  • The Air Quality Management Framework, which framework sets regional one-hour (averaged annually) and annual, triggers and limits for NO2 and SO2 air emissions, will be implemented.
  • The Surface Water Quality Management Framework, which framework sets regional annual triggers and limits for 39 different surface water quality constituents, will be implemented.
  • The Groundwater Management Framework, which framework sets sub-regional interim triggers for 13 different groundwater constituents, will be implemented.
  • The proposed development of the following:
  • Biodiversity Management Framework by 2013
  • Land Disturbance Plan by 2013
  • Tailings Management Framework by 2012
  • Progressive Reclamation Strategy
  • Updated Surface Water Quantity Management Framework
  • No reference to land use offsets or stewardship units, which are referred to in the LSA.
  • No reference to any restriction on development of more than 15% of the region's land base at any one time as recommended by the RAC in the RAC Advice.
  • No CO2 air emissions management plan as recommended by the RAC in the RAC Advice.
  • Limited guidance on either surface water or groundwater quantity withdrawals.

What are Environmental Management Frameworks and What do they Include?

As noted above, the draft LARP references various existing and proposed management frameworks. Management frameworks are designed to maintain flexibility and to proactively manage cumulative effects within a region. They are intended to guide resource development, regulatory processes and facilitate sustainable resource management. The various frameworks are predicated upon the use of triggers and limits. As a substance in question is found within a region in increasing concentrations or amounts, that substance can exceed various trigger levels. Exceedance of each increased trigger level results in an increased response from Alberta Environment. The maximum allowable level for a particular substance is referred to as a limit, rather than a trigger. Exceedance of the maximum allowable limit will result in mandatory action by Alberta Environment to ensure that the exceedance is rectified. Mandatory action could include Alberta Environment restricting further emission sources, imposing emission caps on existing emission sources or imposing emission reduction requirements on existing emission sources (i.e., exceedance of a trigger or limit could result in Alberta Environment restricting or prohibiting the continued operation by oil sands operators even if those operators were individually in compliance with their respective approvals and permits). Enforcement could also include the issuance of an environmental order or fine.

Management frameworks are not stagnant. Rather, the triggers and limits are anticipated to change over time and persons operating within a region need to ensure they stay apprised of the most recent version of the applicable framework. Furthermore, the triggers and limits set out in the various Frameworks are in addition to and do not replace the specific and individual approvals issued to industrial operators and the regulatory compliance regime that presently exists in Alberta. Alberta Environment will continue to monitor each operator for specific exceedances and in the event that a specific exceedance occurs, it will address the situation through the use of existing regulatory compliance mechanisms.

Due to their impact on operators, especially oil sands operators, within the Lower Athabasca Region, the specifics of the management frameworks that have been released to date bear some scrutiny.

Air Quality Management Framework

The Air Quality Management Framework for the Lower Athabasca Region sets out ambient air quality triggers and limits for NO2 and SO2. The air quality triggers and limits are based on either one hour (averaged over one year) or annual exceedances. Air quality monitoring will occur throughout the Lower Athabasca Region and will be undertaken by the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association and the Lakeland Industry and Community Association, with the data supplied to Alberta Environment on an annual basis. Alberta Environment will then be responsible for analyzing the data and determining if any of the triggers or limits have been exceeded.

Surface Water Quality Management Framework

The Surface Water Quality Management Framework for the Lower Athabasca Region focuses on the lower section of the Athabasca River, downstream of the Grand Rapids to the Athabasca River Delta. It is currently specific to only one sampling point, namely the Alberta Environment monitoring station located at the Old Fort and sets out water quality triggers and certain limits for 39 water quality indicators (11 general indicators and 28 metal indicators). (Note: The frame-work contemplates the addition of a second monitoring station upstream of the Firebag River within the near future.)

Groundwater Management Framework

The Groundwater Management Framework for the Lower Athabasca Region divides the region into three non-saline groundwater sub-regions. These sub-regions are: the North Athabasca oil sands area; the South Athabasca oil sands area; and the Cold Lake–Beaver River area. Unlike the Air Quality and Surface Water Quality Management Frameworks, the Groundwater Management Framework contains interim water quality triggers for various water quality indicators for each sub-region rather than final triggers or limits. The use of interim triggers is due in part to the natural range of variability that different indicators exhibit as well as the fact that the groundwater chemistry within all of the sub-regions is still poorly understood.

The Groundwater Management Framework refers to the development of a comprehensive Regional Groundwater Monitoring Network. The Network will involve wells that are representative of regional water quality rather than specific compliance wells located on industrial sites. The Network will be used to provide baseline data as well as to gain insight into aquifer interactions and long-term water quantity and quality trends. As more data is obtained, sub-regional triggers and limits will eventually be established.

What does it all Mean?

Operators currently operating within the Lower Athabasca Region, as well as those contemplating the future start-up of operations, must continue to ensure that they remain in compliance with all operating approvals that are specific to their operations. However, operators need to be aware that their operations also have an overall cumulative impact on the region. The advent of the LARP is recognition of that fact. The release of the draft LARP and its reliance on regional air, surface water and groundwater triggers and limits imposes additional constraints on operators that are geared towards ensuring that the cumulative effects of all operations in a region are managed appropriately. Although some may argue that the rules have changed, the increased focus on cumulative effects appears to be nothing more than a reflection of reality (i.e., one person's operations do not occur in isolation to the operations of another person). With the increased international focus on the environmental effects associated with oil sands development, including the recent comments and concerns expressed by U.S. President Obama, compliance with both specific operational approvals as well as regional air, surface water and groundwater cumulative limits, has to be seen as a positive step.

What's Next?

The draft LARP and associated documents are open for public comment until June 6, 2011. In addition, the government is hosting a variety of public sessions throughout the province between April 18 and May 19 to enable persons to state their views. Since it is expected that the draft LARP will be modified prior to being enacted in its final form, now is the time for everyone operating within the region to express their views on both the contents of the LARP as well as the triggers and limits set out in the frameworks.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
26 Oct 2018, Other, Vancouver, Canada

Cybersecurity, including data privacy and security obligations, has become a critical chapter in every company’s risk management playbook.

30 Oct 2018, Other, Toronto, Canada

Please join us for discussions on recent updates and legal developments in pension and employee benefits as well as employment law issues.

12 Nov 2018, Other, Toronto, Canada

Stories aren’t falsehoods. Stories are the root of all effective human communications: they motivate, animate and clarify. If you aren’t telling stories, you probably aren’t getting your point across.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions