Wetlands Guidelines for Alberta Tar Sands

Fort McMurray, Canada (GLOBE-Net) - The Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), a not-for-profit, non-governmental conservation group from Alberta, has completed new Guidelines for Wetland Establishment on Reclaimed Oil Sands Leases.  The guidelines focus on the reclamation of wetlands in areas with existing and planned oil sands development activities.

CEMA’s mandate is to study the cumulative environmental effects of industrial development in the RMWB region and to produce guidelines and management frameworks recommendations.

CEMA is governed by 46 members representing all levels of government, industry, regulatory bodies, environmental groups, Aboriginal groups, and the local health authority, which have an interest in protecting the environment in the Wood Buffalo region of Alberta.

The goal of the new Wetland Guidelines is to support the creation of a range of sustainable wetlands (such as muskeg, marshes and shallow ponds) in the Athabasca oil sands region. The Guidelines provide advice on design criteria and performance measurements for created wetlands that are accepted by industry, regulators, aboriginal communities and other regional stakeholders.

"The new Wetlands Guidelines will be a helpful tool to reclaim better wetlands for the residents of the region including First Nations and Métis communities." added CEMA President Randall Barrett. "This living document showcases the great work of CEMA and the continued importance of ongoing research and study of reclamation in the areas affected by development."

CEMA anticipates that the Guidelines will be a valuable resource to oil sands companies, regulators, and stakeholders planning for, conducting, and involved with wetland construction in the oil sands region.  The guidelines are a culmination of three decades of experience and research within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) and beyond.

It is estimated that there is over 170 billion barrels of recoverable oil in Alberta - much of which is in wilderness and wetland areas - making the province second only to Saudi Arabia in proved oil riches.  The province expects to be pumping five million barrels of crude a day by 2030 and there is a legitimate concern from conservation groups about the effects of oil extraction on Alberta wetlands and water resources. 

Licenses have been issued by the Alberta government to extract 350 million cubic metres of water from the Athabasca River every year. It takes up to five barrels of water to produce a single barrel of crude.  The water used in the extraction process becomes contaminated and cannot be returned to the eco-system without expensive treatment.  Instead vast quantities of water is being stored in "tailings ponds", which themselves pose certain environmental risks.

The cumulative environmental impacts of oil sands development in the region could affect environmental quality, biological diversity, and/or human health, resulting in habitat loss, wildlife loss, and reduced air and water quality.

The guidelines developed by CEMA are just one piece of the conservation puzzle and more planning in water conservation and treatment is required before oil companies can move ahead with oil extraction.  Without proper management, the negative effects on Alberta’s water resources could be significant.

A summary of the guidelines and official press release from CEMA can be found here.

For More Information: Cumulative Environmental Management Association

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