Edmonton — Two years after the Pembina Institute outlined 19 steps toward responsible oilsands development in a report entitled Solving the Puzzle, and one year after Alison Redford won a majority government, very little progress has been made on the recommended policy improvements, according to an update released by the Institute today.
At a time when industry and governments are increasingly aware of the need to earn the social license or public support to further expand oilsands development, making tangible progress on environmental challenges ought to be a top priority. While the Alberta government recently acknowledged it is considering improvements to its climate policy, Solving the Puzzle identified numerous other gaps in the regulation of air, land and water impacts from oilsands production that also require urgent attention, and outlined a variety of policy solutions to close those gaps.
“There is a long list of achievable solutions that would address the current environmental challenges oilsands producers face,” said Jennifer Grant, director of the Pembina Institute’s oilsands program. “From following up on commitments to strengthen Alberta’s climate policy to protecting wetlands, enforcing existing rules for cleaning up toxic tailings, and ensuring the Athabasca River is protected from industrial water withdrawals when river volumes are low — there are many ways that industry and governments could work together to reduce the negative impacts of oilsands development.”
Solving the Puzzle offers a pragmatic and solutions-oriented set of goals that could address many of the legitimate and unresolved concerns about the oilsands and move Alberta to the forefront of environmental stewardship in natural resource development.
Over the past two years, substantial progress has been made on only two recommendations, namely the noteworthy decision to conserve 1.2 million hectares of forests as part of the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, and a commitment to improve monitoring of the impacts of oilsands development.
However, little action has been taken to address many other Solving the Puzzle recommendations, including those that mirror specific government commitments to protect the Athabasca River and wetlands, strengthen tailings management, and implement rules for the protection of biodiversity and caribou.
“As the Keystone XL debate has shown, the failure to properly regulate the oilsands has had a direct economic impact, potentially costing Alberta billions of dollars annually through environmentally-driven barriers to market access,” said Simon Dyer, policy director at the Pembina Institute. “Considering the range of solutions that are both available and achievable, not taking action to reduce the environmental impacts of oilsands development will only continue to hinder the competitiveness of the oilsands sector.”
“Given what’s at stake, the question is not whether Alberta can afford to properly regulate the oilsands industry, but whether we can afford not to,” Dyer added. “The Government of Alberta needs to move urgently to deliver on its overdue commitments and overcome delays to implementing these solutions.”
Solving the Puzzle resources:
Policy Director, Pembina Institute
Phone: 780-485-9610 x100