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Market News

 February 15, 2009
Sustainable Development for Alberta's Oil Sands

 Globe-Net - True to the promise contained in this week’s Speech From the Throne, the Government of Alberta has released a 20-year strategic plan for Alberta’s oil sands that it claims will reduce the environmental footprint, optimize economic growth, and increase the quality of life in Alberta’s Fort McMurray area.

"When it comes to Alberta’s oil sands, we believe that Canada can be a leader in finding innovative ways to ensure both economic growth and greater environmental protection," said Lloyd Snelgrove, President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat. "This strategy will guide our responsible approach to development, with an increased focus on the environment and the importance of this significant resource to local communities."

The 47-page plan Responsible Actions: A Plan for Alberta’s Oil Sands outlines long-term strategies and immediate actions that address economic, social and environmental challenges and opportunities in the oil sands regions.

The plan showcases current efforts to develop carbon capture and storage systems, for which the province has earmarked $2 billion, and strengthens the approach for land reclamation, cumulative effects management and environmental conservation.

The strategy is closely aligned with provincial and regional initiatives such as the Provincial Energy Strategy and the Land-use Framework.

The strategic plan was based on extensive stakeholder consultations, which were outlined in three reports:

  • Investing in our Future: Responding to the Rapid Growth of Oil Sands Development;
  • Multi-stakeholder Committee Final Report; and
  • Aboriginal Consultation Final Report.

Alberta’s oil sands regions contain the second largest petroleum reserves in the world and play a key role in the long-term economic growth and energy security for Alberta and Canada.

The plan addresses the calls from many quarters to slow the pace of development and to reduce the environmental effects of the oils ands projects. An international campaign has been waged by environmental groups against Alberta’s "dirty oil."

Priority Actions
Priority attention will be given to:

  • Revising the current environmental impact assessment process to support cumulative effects of all projects rather than focusing on single projects one at a time;
  • increasing the pace of reclamation in the oil sands areas, for which little has been done to date;
  • Implementing a community development plan for Fort McMurray to address housing shortages and better manage delivery of community services;
  • Initiating an independent review of oil sands research and innovation systems to identify knowledge gaps;
  • Leveraging bitumen royalties to develop value-added oil sands products;
  • Developing a regional plan for the Lower Athabasca Region; and
  • Conducting a pilot project to assess the cumulative environmental impacts of oil sands development on the rights and traditional land uses of Aboriginal people.

The most telling focus of the plan is the need to improve Alberta’s track record with respect to managing oil sands development in an environmentally responsible manner. The plan clearly indicates more has to be done to manage the cumulative effects of oil sands activities on the environment and the need to better protect air, land, water, biodiversity and human health.

One recommendation in the report calls for the establishment of partnerships with industry, the federal government and municipalities for timely investment in public infrastructure, a prospect long resisted by energy companies arguing that the taxes and royalties they pay should cover these needs.

Roman Cooney, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said it wouldn’t be a change in course for industry to be involved in supporting infrastructure projects.

"We recognize that resource development is a partnership with everybody from the folks who live in the community to our friends south of the border," he said. "I think there is a very much higher level of engagement and activity than the industry gets credit for -- both in terms of environmental commitment and its engagement with the community."

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation noted there were a lot of good words about the oil sands strategy and how to engage First Nations and surrounding communities. "But until those things are implemented it’s only talk."

By promoting further research and development Alberta aims to become a world-class centre of clean-energy excellence which it claims will encourage industry to invest in sustainable development and promote the deployment of clean energy technologies.

More information, as well as electronic copies of the strategic plan, is available at www.treasuryboard.alberta.ca.

For More Information: Government of Alberta