Oil Sands Rules, Tools and Capacity: Are we Ready for Upcoming Challenges?

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  • Within the next decade we are likely to see some significant tests of the current oil sands regulatory and policy framework, including: • Industry-driven: such as an application for reclamation certificate or an application for release of process-affected water or a request to approve the water-capped fine tailings option • Government-driven: such as the implementation of the tailings management framework or LARP management frameworks or the wetlands policy or AEMERA • Environment-driven: such as a low-flow event in the Athabasca River or a major rainfall/flood event What other challenges can we foresee? We know there are various policy initiatives underway that will address some of these challenges but the results are not yet public and the related uncertainty is itself a challenge. In this Workshop, held October 27, 2014 at the University of Alberta, 48 people from a number of sectors explored our level of readiness to deal with such challenges, based on our existing and planned rules, tools and capacity and identify solutions to address the challenges. Each table was asked to produce a list of potential challenges, categorize them based on a set of criteria and then provide solutions to the most pressing challenges. About 84% of the challenges identified were expected to occur in the next 5 years; many of the challenges were described as happening right now. A total of 17 challenges were placed in the Parking Lot. Participants indicated we have Low Readiness to address 41% of the challenges; the small number of High readiness challenges is probably a reflection of our tendency to focus on problems rather than things that are going well. Knowledge was the most frequently identified gap while Regulation was least commonly flagged. Common themes among the 138 challenges include: • Oil sands process-affected water release – criteria, process, stakeholder acceptability, pit lake viability, treatment options and costs • Caribou – how to protect the species and its habitat; how to restore habitat • Aboriginal – what are their desires and needs; how can we accommodate those needs into plans and operational practices • Greenhouse gas and climate change – management, reduction, impact of regulation • Climate change adaptation – how do we ensure hydrology and reclamation plans take climate change into account • Closure and reclamation goals and reclamation certification – end land uses, is perpetual care an option, do we know how reclamation success will be measured • How can offsets be used to compensate for disturbance • Communicating with stakeholders – how to provide and explain complex data, how to explain plans, options and constraints • Economic forces affecting development – access to market, access to resources, price of oil, liability management programs Some of the key themes were: • Desire to see clearer roles and responsibilities for government agencies in regulation, monitoring and communication; suggestions for a single coordinator for these roles • Complete and implement all the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan frameworks • More emphasis on technical- and risk-based decision-making • More emphasis on regional outcomes and solutions • More emphasis on obtaining, considering and incorporating Aboriginal views in plans and decisions • Use adaptive management based on forecasts, scenarios, and monitoring • Need more public, stakeholder and investor communication – share success stories (but acknowledge the problems), identify champions who can take the message out • Invest in research, knowledge/data management • Invest in skills training • Retrieve, preserve and use historical knowledge and corporate memory

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    Attribution 3.0 International