Northeastern Alberta is becoming a hotbed of resource development. The oil sand industry alone has announced approximately $51 billion of investment in all deposits over the next decade. This anticipation along with current development has significantly amplified the issue of cumulative environmental effects.
To address this problem a stakeholder driven, consensus based association was formed in June 2000. Its task was to address 72 issues that had been identified as having potential cumulative impacts in the expanded development of the Wood Buffalo Region. The association addresses these issues through five working groups and three standing committees. The deliverable products are management objectives, management systems and research recommendations to mitigate the cumulative effects. These recommendations go to the regulatory bodies for implementation through permits and licenses.
Other current environmental initiatives, most of which are research and monitoring, are fundamental to an operating environmental management system. The most significant ones include the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, and the Canadian Oil Sands Network for Research and Development which deal with air quality monitoring, aquatics monitoring and environmental research, respectively. These initiatives are all gravitating to CEMA as part of the regionalization phenomenon.
In the mid 1990 changes in the tax and royalty structure for oil sands developments in Alberta, the development of new technology and the price of oil combined to focus renewed interest on the Canadian oil sands. This area contains proven reserves that are comparable to Saudi Arabia. In 1996 the area had two open pit mines and several small or experimental in situ projects. Recently a number of new and expanded oil sands projects have been announced in the region. Both Syncrude and Suncor had recently made application to approximately double their respective rates of oil sands processing; and Albian Sands is developing a new mine in the region. In addition, several other new oil sands projects have been publicly disclosed for the region. The addition of these new and expanded projects could increase bitumen production in the region to over four times the 1995 production levels (i.e. from 350,000 to over 1,430,000 barrels per day) by approximately 2008.
Industry quickly recognized the increased development and the associated regulatory and environmental problems that would accompany that development needed attention. In early 1998 the Cumulative Effects Assessment Working Group, with support and encouragement from the aboriginal peoples and environmental groups, held a series of stakeholder workshops to explore the concept of managing the cumulative effects of development within environmental limits.
In September 1998, based on anticipation of further oil sands resource development in northern Alberta, Alberta Environment (AENV) committed to leading the creation of the Regional Sustainable Development Strategy (RSDS) for the Athabasca Oil Sands region. The RSDS build on Alberta's environmental and resource management system by creating the framework for:
Providing support for the continued economic evelopment in the region that addresses environmental needs and resource sustainability.
Creating an enhanced management framework that will adapt to the changing needs of the area, which will guide government's environmental and resource managers.