Environmental monitoring for the oilsands is expected to resume July 15, 2020. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

N.W.T. ignored in Alberta monitoring suspension despite agreement: leaked emails

Omission revealed between governments

EDMONTON — Alberta suspended environmental monitoring for oilsands companies without notifying the Northwest Territories, despite a legally binding agreement to do so.

The omission is revealed in a series of emails between the two governments obtained by The Canadian Press.

“We have been made aware … that the Alberta Energy Regulator has indefinitely suspended several environmental monitoring requirements for major oilsands producers,” wrote Erin Kelly, the N.W.T.’s deputy environment minister to her Alberta counterpart.

“Do you have any information that can be shared about this?”

The May 15 email was written more than a week after Alberta’s regulator suspended a wide array of monitoring over what it said were public-health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly said her government learned about the move from news reports.

Ten days later, Kelly had not received a response.

“This is concerning to many N.W.T. residents, who still maintain subsistence lifestyles,” she wrote May 25.

“With COVID-19 we have even more residents relying on food harvested from the land and it is almost certain that concerns related to reduced monitoring upstream will be brought up during (the upcoming legislative) session.”

Monitoring is expected to resume Wednesday.

The N.W.T. is downstream from the oilsands and in 2015 signed an agreement with Alberta that spelled out clear responsibilities on information-sharing, notification and consultation for cross-boundary waters.

In her second email, Kelly points to that deal.

“The (territory) has not been informed of or discussed new changes to monitoring as per (the agreement). I have yet to receive a response to my last email.”

An Alberta Environment and Parks email shows Kelly’s second note provoked an “urgent” request within the department for a response to her concerns.

In answer to a request for an explanation for the lack of consultation, Alberta’s United Conservative government provided a one-sentence email.

“There have been ongoing discussions and information-sharing with the N.W.T. on the status of ambient water quality monitoring at sites referenced in the Alberta-N.W.T. Bilateral Agreement throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, starting in March,” wrote Alberta Environment spokesman John Muir.

Joslyn Oosenbrug, spokeswoman for the N.W.T. Environment Department, said several meetings were held in June to address the territory’s concerns.

“Alberta has committed to sharing information and discussing any changes to monitoring,” she wrote in an email. ”Communication is ongoing, and includes emails and letters exchanged at the deputy minister and ministerial level.”

However, the territory wants a stronger voice in managing water flowing into its land. It wants a seat on several committees that determine how waters will be monitored “to ensure downstream interests are represented,” Oosenbrug wrote.

Marlin Schmidt, environment critic for Alberta’s Opposition New Democrats, said the snub showed a “lack of respect.”

“It’s really disappointing to me to see the government of Alberta is taking its relationship with other Canadians so lightly right now,” he said.

“When our government is complaining about the poor treatment that we’re allegedly getting from other Canadians, we should be treating (them) with the respect with which we expect to be treated.”

The N.W.T. isn’t the only interested group that wasn’t consulted about the suspensions. First Nations in the oilsands area, environmental groups, Alberta’s chief scientist and the scientific consultants who perform monitoring work all say they were left out of the decision.

The government has said the move was made in response to concerns from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers about operators not being able to meet certain monitoring requirements while complying with COVID-19 orders.

Alberta has yet to release work plans or budget for this year’s field season of a joint federal-provincial program responsible for environmental monitoring outside various oilsands leases. Industry, which funds the efforts, has been lobbying heavily for a less extensive and cheaper plan.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2020.

Albertaoil & gas

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

100 Women Who Care make a donation to Sylvan Lake Food Bank and Bethany Care Centre. Photo By Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
100 Women Who Care donate to four Sylvan Lake groups

The Food Bank, Bethany Sylvan Lake, Community Partners and the Library all received a donation

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read