January 31, 2013

Fort McMurray, Alberta – In November of 2012 the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) published a detailed book that, for the first time, synthesizes the results and concepts of WBEA’s 2008-2012 scientifically enhanced monitoring work, and offers a wide ranging look at significant environmental indicators of air quality and the state of the terrestrial environment in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR).

The book, titled Alberta Oil Sands: Energy, Industry and the Environment, has been published by Elsevier in Oxford, England, as part of the Developments in Environmental Science series. The peer-reviewed, academic results translate into ‘practical’ science that is already helping to change the way stakeholders do business in the region.

With work and contributions from a team of multi-disciplinary senior scientists from Canada, the United States and Europe, the book features nineteen chapters ranging in topics from a global perspective of energy production, measurement methodologies and behavior of various air pollutants during bitumen extraction/upgrading in a boreal forest ecosystem, to designing and deploying a multi-disciplinary, proactive, and long-term environmental monitoring system that will also serve regulatory expectations.

After a significant increase in funding in 2008, WBEA assembled a distinguished group of international scientists who have been conducting measurements and practical research on various aspects of air emissions and their potential effects on terrestrial receptors. The chapters in the book are a direct result of this work, and of the years of environmental monitoring carried out through WBEA’s air, land and human monitoring programs.

The air quality information WBEA collects has always been openly shared with stakeholders and the public, and the publication of this book further demonstrates WBEA’s transparency.

Executive Director of WBEA, and editor of Alberta Oil Sands: Energy, Industry and the Environment, Dr. Kevin Percy, PhD, said, “WBEA has been measuring and monitoring the environment at key points along the air pollutant pathway, and for the first time in this region we are utilizing a truly holistic, forest health approach to monitoring. These chapters provide original scientific data on emissions, transport, air quality, deposition and source contributions to terrestrial ecosystems.

The development in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) has come under intense public scrutiny in recent years, which makes the information contained within this book all the more important. It will be used to inform environmental decisions, it will contribute new knowledge to support environmental impact assessments, and it will inform stakeholders and the public on environmental air quality in the Wood Buffalo region.”

The book features many noteworthy findings:

  • Both the scientific model predictions, and the actual lichen measurements conducted through WBEA’s forest health monitoring program indicate that the main air quality footprint in the AOSR is concentrated within a 20-25 km radius of the main emission sources (i.e. industrial sites). Deposition decreases rapidly outside of the 20km radius.
  • The results from a gaseous mercury analyzer (operated by Environment Canada in WBEA’s Patricia McInnes Air Monitoring Station in Fort McMurray) indicate that total gaseous mercury concentrations in the AOSR are similar to average concentrations measured elsewhere in Canada.
  • Receptor modeling work has, for the first time, apportioned the various sources of emissions in the AOSR into identifiable categories and corresponding percentages (i.e. how much is contributed by combustion, by refining, by motor vehicles, by mining, etc.).
  • Source-receptor modeling has demonstrated that the largest proportion of air pollutant deposition to terrestrial receptors was related to re-suspension into the atmosphere of course particulate matter (i.e. dust).

Dr. Percy states, “The scientific work underpinning this book clearly demonstrates that there is an absolute pre-requisite for an on-the-ground, long term integrated suite of measurements that by design link the air and terrestrial systems. As such, WBEA is fully supportive of the enhanced level of research and measurements proposed in the Joint Canada/Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring.”

Percy adds, “WBEA’s Membership has been fully supportive of an increase in the extent and intensity of our monitoring since 2008. The nineteen peer-reviewed, scientific papers in this text are a direct result of their support and confidence. These papers represent the work of preeminent scientists executing high quality, yet ‘practical’, science in our region.

Our Members can be justifiably proud that in 2007, they recognized the need, and funded enhanced scientific environmental monitoring. Today, those monitoring results – brought together in WBEA’s new text – provide regional stakeholders with increased practical knowledge on which to base decisions as we move forward.”


  • Alberta Oil Sands: Energy, Industry and the Environment is available for purchase online at:
  • The content for the majority of the chapters was drawn from presentations made at the WBEA International Symposium held in Fort McMurray in May of 2011, in conjunction with the 43rd International Air Pollution Workshop. The remaining chapters are drawn from associated projects funded and managed by WBEA as part of its strategic science enhancement.
  • The objective of the book series Developments in Environmental Science is to facilitate the publication of scholarly works that address any of the described topics. The emphasis of the series is on the importance of the subject topic, the scientific and technical quality of the content and timeliness of the work.