Survey of Oil Sands Environmental Management Research and Information Needs

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  • As one of its last projects, the Oil Sands Research and Information Network (OSRIN) conducted this survey of oil sands environmental management research and information needs. The survey was conducted in October and early November 2014 for OSRIN by the University of Alberta’s Population Research Laboratory (PRL). The survey content was developed by OSRIN. The PRL then placed the survey into digital format and provided a link to the survey site to OSRIN. The PRL provided the raw survey results in Excel format to OSRIN in November. A link to the survey was originally sent to 276 people and 13 organizations via e-mail on October 31, 2014. The link was also placed in the October 31, 2014 edition of the OSRIN Newsletter which was distributed to 273 people, with a reminder in the November 14 Newsletter. Recipients were encouraged to forward the survey to others in their organizations to allow us to get the broadest possible range of views. The survey officially closed November 15, 2014; however, some late submissions (as of November 25, 2014) have been included. A total of 127 responses were received but only 88 respondents answered all of the questions. Consultants and academics formed the majority of self-identified respondents; approximately 41% of the 88 respondents had more than 15 years combined education and experience. When offered the opportunity to allocate $100 for a variety of purposes respondents said they’d focus funding on: • Monitoring and research • In-situ and mining operations • Tailings, reclamation and surface water research Respondents were asked to identify up to five (5) priority research projects they would like to see funded. A total of 277 research project ideas were submitted. Frequently cited research subjects include: • Greenhouse gas emissions, impacts and management • Fish, wildlife and biodiversity • Cumulative effects characterization and management • Reclamation certification criteria and oil sands process-affected water release criteria • Reclamation methods • Tailings treatment • Water and groundwater impacts (especially chemistry) • Wetland impacts and reclamation A significant majority of respondents said they would focus on large field trials or pilots rather than smaller field trials or lab/greenhouse work. Respondents felt that impact assessment and impact mitigation are currently the primary area of research focus, while the majority felt it should be mitigation followed by avoidance. Industry was selected most often as the preferred research funder, while Academic Institutions were selected as the preferred research performer. The two levels of government were seen as second choices for both funding and performing research. Respondents were asked to identify up to five (5) priority information / data needs they would like to see filled. A total of 199 needs ideas were submitted, however there is some overlap with the research needs list. Frequently cited information priorities include: • Open, accessible monitoring data portals • GIS-based information • Baseline and inventory data, especially for fish, wildlife, water quality and wetlands • More knowledge synthesis • More information on the impacts of oil sands development Respondents said they look for information online first and indicated that some information is easier to find than others. It is clear that Peer-reviewed Journals are seen as the best information source – easiest to find, most frequently used and cited. Government Publications, Proceedings and Government Websites scored well in terms of being used for information. Almost 40% of respondents use Monitoring Data for information but only 7% said the data were easy to find. Data synthesis/presentation tools were identified as requiring additional development effort. The extensive lists of research priorities and information needs provided by the respondents shows there is a clear need for ongoing work to support oil sands environmental management. The survey responses demonstrated the need to better communicate availability of existing information and to continue to make efforts to provide easy, timely and transparent access to monitoring and research information. It is also evident that respondents are looking for this information online, however they often find the information difficult to access. Significant effort is required, especially in government organizations, to ensure that site and document links remain permanent rather than constantly changing. Finally, it appears that there is value in pursuing mechanisms to provide practitioners with ongoing educational and professional development opportunities. A survey of research and information needs should be repeated periodically to track key issues and performance in addressing them. Although we made considerable efforts to get input from a broad range of parties the survey would have benefited from more participation, especially from the Aboriginal community, monitoring agencies and government (especially the federal government).

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    Attribution 3.0 International