Alberta Regulations Re Water Management and Tailings Management

On March 13, the Alberta government announced two new policies meant to provide environmental protections in the Athabasca Oil Sands area. The Tailings Management Framework for Mineable Oilsands limits the amount of tailings allowed to accumulate and  requires that sites be remediated to a ready-to-reclaim state within 10 years of the end-of-mine-life of a project. Companies are encouraged to invest in new technology, and are required by the Conservation and Reclamation Regulation to post additional financial security to deal with potential remediation issues. Read the Pembina Institute reaction, Tailings Management Framework: A new Chapter in the Alberta Oil Sands Story? (March 16). Regarding water policy, The Surface Water Quantity Management Framework establishes limits for water use during low-flow periods and requires maintenance of an adequate quantity of water for Aboriginal river navigation and pursuit of traditional activities. It does not establish Ecosystem Base Flow (EBF) system, as recommended by scientists. The Council of Canadians reacted by pointing out that the Framework restrictions are voluntary, and provide exemptions to Suncor and Syncrude, even if water levels are low. The explanation? Under NAFTA Chapter 11, the government of Canada could be sued if Alberta were to limit the current water access of the oil sands companies.  SumOfUs.org, Keepers of the Athabasca, Environmental Defence Canada and the Natural Resources Defence Council issued a joint press release condemning the new regulations as an “oil industry wish list”. See also the NRDC blog, New Tar Sands Water Policy from Alberta favors Industry (March 13).

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