Alberta’s voluntary oil sands agreement lacks teeth

Media release from the Pembina Institute:
The Government of Alberta has repeatedly failed to respond to questions regarding its ability to effectively monitor and enforce water withdrawal restrictions for oil sands companies, noted a number of Alberta environmental groups. This winter, water flows in the Athabasca River have dropped to a level where withdrawals by oil sands companies may increase stress to the aquatic ecosystem. The Government of Alberta announced last week that it would direct oil sands companies to limit their water withdrawals.
“Based on what we know right now, it seems that the government has more bark than bite when it comes to actually restricting water withdrawals by oil sands companies,” says Lindsay Telfer of the Sierra Club of Canada. “They are talking tough, which is good for public relations, but their ability to actually enforce these restrictions is questionable.”
Oil sands companies have developed an Oil Sands Mining Water Management Agreement for the 2008-2009 Winter Period that outlines their approach to complying with any water withdrawal restrictions. On December 2, 2008, a number of Alberta-based environmental groups sent a letter to Alberta Environment requesting clarification regarding the Government of Alberta’s ability to monitor and enforce the Agreement. A follow-up letter was sent on January 13, 2009. Alberta Environment has not responded to either letter.
“The government is relying upon the oil sands industry to report their own withdrawal rates, so it’s like the fox guarding the henhouse,” notes Harvey Scott of the Keepers of the Athabasca Alliance. “The government doesn’t even have a monitoring gauge immediately downstream of the operations, and therefore doesn’t know how much water the oil sands industry is using.”
“We remain puzzled by the government’s choice to use a voluntary agreement on something so controversial as major water diversions from oil sands operators,” says Danielle Droitsch of Water Matters. “The people who live in this region deserve an iron-clad agreement so they know the river is protected.”
The Government of Alberta’s media release is available here.
A copy of the December 2, 2008, letter requesting that the Government of Alberta explain how it intends to monitor and enforce water withdrawals is available here.

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