Monitoring Priority Area Update

Kelly Munkittrick

Kelly Munkittrick
Director, Monitoring Priority Area

Did you notice the change in title? Monitoring is changing – we will no longer be a working group; we’re in the process of finalizing an agreement to become a priority area (PA)! What exactly does that mean? Well it means that Monitoring will now function in a similar way to COSIA’s Environmental Priority Areas (EPA). We are, however, still open to all oil sands companies who fund the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program (JOSM), including non-COSIA members. This change will provide us with a broader level of alignment across companies as we continue to work with JOSM.

In addition to changing our name, we have been busy holding monitoring-related workshops and courses with various groups throughout Canada. We held a triggers workshop in June to develop a consistent approach to calculating and assessing triggers. A trigger is a change in the level of an environmental indicator that “triggers” a response to evaluate the significance of the change, and to mitigate any further change if necessary.

The workshop was attended by representatives of 12 monitoring programs from across Canada including Alberta, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Ontario. Each of these programs had their own methodology for developing and assessing triggers. Part of my role as Director of Monitoring is to determine when an environmental change is significant enough that we should pay attention, but for triggers to be effective, it is important that we review the various approaches that are in development by other programs.

Over the course of the workshop we worked to develop a framework by comparing the different methodologies and establishing best practices for determining an answer to the following question: Is the environmental change I see important?

This can be determined by answering the following three questions:

  1. Have there been changes to environmental indicators at a specific site?
  2. If there have, then have there been changes to the reference or natural areas around that site?
  3. Have there been changes to environmental indicators regionally?

Using a consistent methodology will allow us to more effectively assess and mitigate environmental triggers in the oil sands.

In September we held a number of courses on monitoring design. The course, first held at the COSIA Water Conference in March and back by popular demand, provides an overview of the philosophy behind monitoring study and design. The focus of the course is to provide a background in terminology and philosophy to enable stakeholders to participate more fully in discussions around monitoring programs. The course was attended by members of the general public, environmental groups including Water Rights and Trout Unlimited, members of local watershed monitoring groups including the Town of Turner Valley and Fort McKay First Nation, and government departments including Alberta Health Services.

We have spent the remainder of 2014 working with the other members of JOSM to finalize the monitoring plans for 2015. Stay tuned for more details in the New Year!