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Alberta signs agreement with Ottawa cutting major environmental monitoring of oilsands

An agreement has just been reached between Alberta and the federal government that will result in a major decrease in environmental monitoring of the oilsands.
Sam Edwards High Level, Alberta

An agreement has just been reached between Alberta and the Trudeau government that will result in a major decrease in environmental monitoring of the province's oilsands, according to Global News.

The agreement was signed by top bureaucrats in Edmonton and Ottawa on July 7. It cuts funding by a minimum of 25 percent and this year's budget has been cut to a maximum of $44 million. Last year the budget was $58 million and in 2018 it was $60 million.

The deal covers research plans for the field season this year falling beneath a federal-provincial program in charge of overseeing the monitoring of areas falling outside of company leases.

The agreement says that there is no field work to be done on the Athabasca River's main branch and there will be no funding from the program for monitoring downstream from the oilsands. This comes as Alberta is considering allowing water from tailings ponds to flow into the river.

It is also pointed out in the agreement that there will not be any field studies on fish, insects or wetlands.

A pilot project that looks into tailings ponds risks has also been dropped along with Wood Buffalo National Park’s water quality assessment.

Administrative costs have increased under the deal to over $10 million from roughly $7 million last year.

Jim Herbers who is from the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute notes that his funding was dropped from between $4 and 5 million to $1.4 million.

"Field monitoring is the biggest component of what we're not going to be doing this year," Herbers said.

"The work around monitoring for amphibians, birds and mammals, that work won't be undertaken. Nor will work on tracking indicators related to plants or changes in habitat."

Alberta's NDP Opposition environment critic, Marlin Schmidt noted that $50 million was set aside for monitoring.

"I feel I've been lied to," he said, adding that industry cuts will not be a good look for Alberta.

"It's critical to protect the environment. It's also critical to show the world we can develop these resources responsibly. We're failing at both."

Earlier this year between March and July, a variety of monitoring activities for oilsands companies were suspended by Alberta's energy regulator and the United Conservative government. One of the reasons given for the suspension was the pandemic.

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