An environmental study of the Athabasca tar sands: Report and recommendations to Alberta Department of the Environment

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  • The following was the general concept of the work for which the Study was commissioned: • Identify the various methods that could be used for oil extraction and their comparative merits with respect to minimum adverse effects on the environment. • In considering the Clark method of tar sands extraction (or its variations), it will not be necessary to study the effects on the environment within the area in which actual mining and extraction activities take place, but detrimental effects or impact on the otherwise undisturbed surrounding area are to be investigated. • Other recovery methods, such as in-situ steam extraction, shall be evaluated in terms of impact or consequences on the immediate as well as the surrounding environment. • Recommendations shall be made with respect to mining, extraction and processing methods and procedures that should be employed to eliminate or minimize adverse effects on the environment. • Recommend constraints to be applied on plant location, plant capacity and number of plants per given area, as may be required to give effect to the above recommendations. • Determine which effects or problems should be given priority in research efforts, the allocation of resources for abatement, and legislation. • Investigations should include the recommendations for the establishment of a realistic balance between long and short term effects on the environment. The study should also enable the Government of Alberta to select optimum strategies in the implementation of long term tar sands development policies. The terms of reference were further defined in discussions with the Department of the Environment and with the Conservation and Utilization Committee. These negotiations culminated in a formal agreement for the project. It was agreed that the Study would be restricted to the Bituminous Sands Area as defined by the Province of Alberta. During the course of the Study instructions were received to exclude any consideration of product pipelines, and transportation corridors. The Study was started in March, 1972 and completed in March 1973. General Observations The environmental effects of eventual multi-plant operations over the extent of the Athabasca Tar Sands could be enormous, unless preventative measures are implemented. The tar sands industry must improve its technology significantly to protect the environment against the possible impacts of the large scale expansion currently being contemplated. Existing technical information must be made available when required for the planning of environmental protection. Extensive additional research will be needed to develop new preventative techniques. Some constraints will have to be applied to control the cumulative effects of emissions from tar sands plants upon the ambient environment. More detailed ecological data is needed for the planning process, however it can be derived within the time required to conduct the technological research. A unique opportunity exists for the comprehensive planning of orderly industrial development in the Bituminous Sands Area. Simultaneously, plans should be formulated for the regional development of the Area to provide optimal human habitat for the anticipated influx of residents. The basic premise for such plans will involve an objective allocation of environmental resources, both existing and future. New government policies will be essential to guide the industrial and regional development of the area towards the long term interests of Albertans and other Canadians. This will necessitate, for example, a review of the existing bituminous sands lease regulations to ensure that the rights granted to lessees do not conflict with environmental considerations. The report describes the magnitude of the potential problems and prescribes constraints and research priorities to protect the environment. The recommended research and planning should be conducted as a joint effort involving both Government and Industry.

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