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WBEA Response to 2011 October Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Fort McMurray, AB - The Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) acknowledges the 2011 October Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, released October 4, 2011, regarding environmental monitoring in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region.

WBEA is a multi-stakeholder, not-for-profit, science-based monitoring organization, headquartered in Fort McMurray, AB. WBEA is responsible for monitoring ambient air quality and terrestrial environmental effects from industrial emissions to the atmosphere in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region.

WBEA’s membership comprises environmental non-government organizations such as the Pembina Institute, the Fort McKay First Nations, industry, and three levels of government including Environment and Health Canada.

WBEA is led by Executive Director, Dr. Kevin Percy, Ph.D., who has over 35 years of scientific experience. WBEA’s programs are adaptive and have evolved greatly since 2007, following a significant three-fold enhancement in funding. WBEA has a highly-trained technical staff and a team of 30 well-respected Canadian, American and European scientists, some of whom are authorities in their fields. These scientists are principal investigators with WBEA and represent a range of scientific disciplines, universities and agencies.

WBEA operates 15 continuous ground level air monitoring stations including 84 analyzers for major air pollutants, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, reduced sulfurs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The network and its data are rigorously scrutinized, quality assured and reported in real-time to the public. WBEA's air quality data are streamed in real time to Environment Canada for hourly calculation of the national Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), available on the WBEA web site. WBEA’s also contributes data to Alberta’s Clean Air Strategic Alliance.

Last fall, the former federal Minister of the Environment convened a panel of independent experts, which was chaired by Elizabeth Dowdeswell, to take stock of the monitoring systems in the Athabasca region.

The Federal Oil Sands Advisory Panel’s report A Foundation for the Future: Building an Environmental Monitoring System for the Oil Sands recognized WBEA’s strategic shift to informative, science-based environmental monitoring when it stated on page 30:

“WBEA has recently adopted a sound, transparent science approach that permeated all of its activities.”

On June 30, 2011 the independent panel tasked with providing recommendations to the Government of Alberta on how to build an improved environmental monitoring system submitted its report; A World Class Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting System for Alberta.

Once again, WBEA was positively recognized in the following statement from page 27 of the provincial report:

“The Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, for example, monitors air quality and terrestrial ecosystems in the Lower Athabasca region and demonstrates many of the operational and scientific attributes that the Panel considers essential for a world class monitoring, evaluation and reporting system.”

In response to the release of the report of the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development WBEA Executive Director, Dr. Percy, Ph.D., says, “We note the conclusions of the Commissioner and we feel it is important to point out that WBEA is already meeting many of recommendations of both the Federal Oil Sands Advisory Panel, and the Alberta Environmental Monitoring Panel.”

“WBEA is a science-driven, credible, robust, adaptive, and transparent monitoring system for measuring environmental conditions and changes in environmental quality levels.”

In 2008 WBEA adopted a forest-health ecosystem based, emission source to terrestrial sink monitoring design that tracks the fate of emissions across the landscape. To do this, WBEA’s team of scientists built and installed the first ever portable emissions monitoring system onto the tail pipes of mine heavy haulers, to gather "real-world" data while the trucks are at work.

WBEA is using mercury, lead, sulfur and nitrogen stable isotopes to trace the fate of air emissions, and link trace element concentrations found in plants and soils to natural, and/or man-made sources such as oil sands operations.

Using the forest health approach, WBEA is moving toward linking cause and effect, while accounting for influnces of both air pollution and climate.

“We have a solid, state-of-the-art air monitoring system in place and, as always, we are open to further developing and improving that program based on the best science available,” said Dr. Percy.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with other jurisdictions and stakeholders as the recommendations of the federal and provincial reports are put into action. We believe WBEA will play a central role in insuring that stakeholders and decision makers have the best information available with which to make informed environmental decisions.”