Alberta Government Chooses Oil Over Water

SumOfUs, March 13, 2015

Coalition of groups slam release of pro-industry water usage rules for the oil sands industry

 (Vancouver, BC.)  Today, Keepers of the Athabasca, Environmental Defence Canada and the Natural Resources Defense Council criticized the Alberta government for its decision to adopt weak new environmental regulations governing water usage in the oil sands industry today. The long-awaited Surface Water Quantity Framework (SWQF) and Tailings Management Framework set guidelines on how much water oil sands companies can extract from the Athabasca River, and guidelines regarding the management and production of toxic tailings waste.

“These new rules read like an oil industry wish list. Minister Jim Prentice promised Alberta would be a world leader in the conservation and the environmental protection, but instead he has ignored First Nations, local communities and science in the name of corporate interests. Albertans will be disappointed to learn their government has bowed to corporate lobbying and put industry interests above our environment. It’s corporate power run amok,” Emma Pullman, Senior Campaigner at corporate watchdog group said.

The new policies will pose a threat to the health of the Athabasca River system and one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas, which is home to species including moose, bison and wolves. The River is a vital source of drinking water, an important wetland habitat, and supports two national and thirty provincial parks.

Today’s rules do not include an “Ecosystem Base Flow”– as a best practice that would have protected the river from catastrophic damage during rare low-flow events. Instead the rules give a major exemption to oil sands giants Suncor (SU) and Syncrude to extract water directly from the Athabasca  even if water levels are dangerously low. Furthermore, the the water management framework is entirely voluntary. To ensure protection of the ecosystem and river, there needs to be enforced legal limits for oil sands companies. Already, over 30,000 Canadians have signed a petition calling on Premier Jim Prentice to go back to the drawing board and release policy that actually protects the Athabasca River.

“First Nations and Métis people made clear the need for stronger water withdrawal limits, and we’re disappointed to see that the government has decided bow to the interests of industry. The LARP (Lower Athabasca Regional Plan), JOSM (Joint Oilsands Monitoring), and AEMERA (The Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency) all lack Indigenous inclusion,” said Jesse Cardinal of Keepers of the Athabasca.

“The provincial government needs to go back to the drafting table and come up with legislation that sets these minimum flow requirements without exception. And companies such as Suncor need to accept that there is no basis for any company having weaker rules to adhere to,” said Adam Scott of Environmental Defence.

“The Government of Alberta routinely lobbies in the United States claiming the province has strong environmental standards guiding tar sands development.  And yet, here is another example announcing weak regulations that favors the industry and certainly fails to demonstrate leadership,” said Danielle Droitsch, the Canada Project Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. has targeted Suncor for seeking exemptions to the new water rules. Instead of investing in sufficient water storage facilities or exploring water-sharing options, the company pushed for – and won – an exemption from the bare minimum standard. The company also has a track record of numerous environmental violations.

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