In two radical new decisions released on May 20, the provincial regulator said it was no longer safe for businesses to continue monitoring environmental impacts due to the threat of COVID-19.
Alberta suspends environmental monitoring of 16 oil sands projects due to COVID-19
Alberta Energy Regulator Suspends Certain Environmental Requirements
The regulator also noted in one of the decisions that the number of oil and gas companies involved was too long to be listed.
“It is impractical to name all the operators affected by this decision individually due to the large number of operators,” the regulator said in one of the decisions.
The other decision suspends several monitoring requirements for a group of oil sands projects that were not included in its previous decisions of April 29, May 1 and May 5.
Regulatory decisions come after province started economic recovery plan after COVID-19 foreclosure, including an attempt to host NHL playoffs in Edmonton when the league resumes suspended.
The regulator said it had received “legitimate concerns and information demonstrating that operators will not be able to meet certain monitoring requirements contained in the [project] approvals while complying with COVID-19 orders and directives. “
But that contrasts with Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s message to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a May 12 letter saying that Edmonton was ready to host hockey games.
“We are confident that with the stimulus package already published, there would be a clear path for the NHL to work with public health officials to allow these NHL matches to take place,” Kenney writes in the letter.
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Monique Dubé, former chief scientist of the regulatory body from 2014 to 2017, who recently left a management position at Alberta Environment and Parks, told Global News that some of the AER’s decisions are risky and do not seem not justified.
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“We are talking about protecting people and the environment from acute incidents that could affect human and environmental health in the short term,” she said.
Environment and Climate Change Canada, which is responsible for the enforcement of federal environmental laws and cooperates with provincial regulatory agencies, said it had not been informed of the previous suspension of monitoring requirements by the ARE than on the regulator’s website.
But federal and provincial officials have said their law enforcement officials will continue inspections and other activities during the pandemic.
Jess Sinclair, spokesperson for Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon, defended the regulator’s decisions, saying they were supposed to strike a balance between public safety and worker safety.
“In any case, the surveillance activities necessary to ensure immediate public health, environmental protection, and emergency preparedness and response will continue,” said Sinclair.
It did not immediately provide details of the evidence that the government or the regulator had reviewed before the decisions and what oversight activities they considered essential.
“We continue to monitor the situation of COVID-19 and these short-term relief measures,” she said. “Work is underway to determine when the exemptions will be lifted.”
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She also noted that no fans would be present at the proposed NHL games and that players would remain in a central location, unlike the surveillance staff who would be traveling. She did not explain in detail why the government believed that the risks of travel for NHL players arriving in Edmonton would be different from the risks posed by field supervisors.
Mandy Olsgard, toxicologist who does consulting work for communities linked to industrial projects, told Global News that part of the regulator’s rationale does not make sense. She noted that some of the temporary changes remove certain monitoring requirements that have been introduced to protect the health of Aboriginal communities.
“It is interesting to note that field staff will continue to perform field measurements, but have removed the requirement to take out a bottle of water and send it to the laboratory,” said Olsgard. “If these were released in March, you would have been able to understand why, but now we are back in business, the economy is on the move and all of a sudden we are witnessing a loosening of surveillance. “
At a press conference, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley blamed Kenney for the regulator’s decision.
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“This is a totally silly decision and silly logic,” Notley said at a press conference. “What we are actually seeing here is a cynical and exploitative use of this pandemic to bring about Jason Kenney’s extreme agenda, which is to stop all work to protect the earth, air and water that Albertans care about. . “
Notley added that the Kenney government is also sending mixed messages telling hairdressers that it’s okay for them to get close enough to clients to cut their hair, but that it’s unsafe for oil companies and gas companies to monitor toxins.
She said Alberta’s reputation and economy will be hurt by the regulator’s decisions.
“We have the ability in Alberta to be a world leader in environmentally sustainable and sustainable oil and gas production,” said Notley. “But whether you are talking about trying to promote this case in Ottawa or to do it with international investors, you are not doing it when you suddenly turn your province into a far west of environmental protection. It’s completely ridiculous. “
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