‘Tar-like substance’ seeping out of ground among environmental concerns at Alberta park

(Source: CBC News) The Alberta government is trying to identify the risks and liabilities of continuing to operate an Edmonton-area park in the river valley, tender documents show. 

The province recently posted a request for proposals (RFP) for a Phase 2 environmental assessment of the Strathcona Science Provincial Park, just east of Edmonton.

A Phase 1 environmental site assessment, conducted last year, revealed environmental concerns over potentially harmful contaminants in the park.

The RFP’s project description said Alberta Parks has concerns about contaminants, walking paths collapsing into abandoned mine shafts and “an unknown, black, tar-like substance” seeping out of the ground in various spots.

“The source of the seep is uncertain and there are concerns that this substance may pose a risk to park users,” the document says.

The province is looking to hire a company for a five-month contract to identify contaminants that “may pose an unacceptable risk to the public” and establish remediation options, including cost estimates.

Pam Davidson, press secretary for the ministry of Forestry and Parks, said the results of the assessment will inform future park management approaches.

Before the land was turned into a park, it had a long history of industrial activity.

The Great West Coal Company operated the Black Diamond coal mine on the site during the first half of the 20th century. Educational signs at the park show many coal mines were located in the area, along both sides of the river valley.

According to the RFP, the area was also used for sand and gravel extraction, a concrete plant, industrial waste disposal and a landfill.

The first environmental assessment explains that in 1971, the City of Edmonton and Strathcona County agreed to run a sanitary landfill there, putting waste into areas that had already been excavated.

The landfill accepted household and commercial waste. While it’s unknown whether toxic substances were dumped there, the Phase 1 assessment says the historic landfill is an environmental concern because leachate from the former dump may be coming out of the ground and entering the North Saskatchewan River.

John Ashton, who was the Progressive Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Ottewell during the 1970s, lobbied to have the messy area cleaned up and turned into a park. During that decade, with money from the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the Capital City Recreation Park was developed in the river valley.

The Alberta government is trying to identify environmental risks and liabilities at Strathcona Science Provincial Park.

In the eastern park, the government went a step further by creating a museum with six octagonal science pavilions. The buildings, connected to each other via pathways through a central courtyard, held interactive displays about natural resources.

According to a supplement published in the Edmonton Journal, the provincial park opened to the public in July of 1980.

“They were beautiful exhibits in these places, but the trouble is, as I understand it, that they couldn’t get people to come,” Ashton said. 

The pavilions closed in 1988, according to a 1999 article in the Edmonton Journal, and the park’s archeological centre closed in 1991.

The next year, according to an article in the Sherwood Park News, a man walking his dog found a smelly substance leaching out of the ground.

The substance was believed to include cancer-causing benzene and other hydrocarbons. That prompted officials to fence off the southern part of the park and monitor the pollutants.

These days, the park is home to the Sunridge Ski Area, the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club’s Biathlon Centre and the Strathcona Remote Control Flyers Association. 

Chuck Francis, who flies remote-controlled planes at the park whenever weather permits, said he’s not concerned about what’s underground.

He said he has bushwhacked throughout the park to retrieve errant planes, and has never smelled gas or come across tar-like substances.

Whatever the assessment turns up, he said he hopes the club can still fly in the park since they haven’t been able to find any other place suitable.

“I certainly hope they don’t decide to shut the facility down — that would be devastating,” he said.

Rocky Feroe with the Edmonton River Valley Conservation Coalition said she’s glad the provincial government is having an environmental assessment done and would love to see the naturalization of the area continue.

“I feel more hope than anything for restoration of the area,” she said.


AER: New Edition of Directive 001

Today we released a new edition of Directive 001: Requirements for Site-Specific Liability Assessment. The changes we’ve made are as follows:

  • removed irrelevant or duplicative information, updated the references to include up-to-date regulatory requirements, and brought the directive up to AER formatting standards (this included moving the forms out of the directive for future posting on the directive’s landing page)
  • revised the definition of liability assessment to emphasize the obligations of licensees to provide care and custody from shut-down of operations through suspension, abandonment, remediation, and reclamation of sites
  • modified the scope of the directive to include sites regulated under the Geothermal Resource Development Rules and Brine-Hosted Mineral Resource Development Rules
  • integrated the requirements that were in appendix 2 into the main body to remove duplication and identify the requirements that are expected in a comprehensive SSLA
  • removed the requirement to submit the On-Site Reclamation and Remediation Details form and the Facility Summary form

A draft of the directive was released for public feedback on January 9, 2023 (see Bulletin 2023-01). A summary of the feedback, including our responses, is available on the directive’s webpage. The revised edition of Directive 001 is available on our website at www.aer.ca > Regulating Development > Rules and Directives > Directives. If you have any questions, contact our Customer Contact Centre by phone at 1-855-297-8311 or by email at [email protected].


Clean Fuel Regulations: Recap of June 2023 media technical briefing

The Clean Fuel Regulations will cut greenhouse gas pollution across the country. This is good for our climate, economy, health, and well-being. It will also help Canadians avoid future costs with impacts from climate change, which is already costing the Canadian economy billions every year.

On June 28, 2023, senior officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada held a technical briefing for the media. A transcript of their remarks on the Clean Fuel Regulations is published below.

“Last summer, the Government of Canada published the final Clean Fuel Regulations. This is an important part of Canada’s climate action plan by delivering up to 26.6 million tonnes of emissions reduction annually by 2030. The Clean Fuel Regulations build on the success of the federal Renewable Fuels Regulations, which have been in effect for over a decade. They specified one pathway for reducing the emissions intensity of fuels, while the Clean Fuel Regulations take a more flexible approach, to encourage the development and deployment of a range of cleaner fuels and technologies.

“The Clean Fuel Regulations require producers and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce the life-cycle carbon intensity from the fuels supplied for use in Canada. A life-cycle approach accounts for emissions across all stages of fuel production and use, from extraction through processing, distribution, and end use. Unlike the federal fuel charge on carbon pollution, the Clean Fuel Regulations do not prescribe a price at the pumps. Rather, actual price impacts will depend on how producers and importers of gasoline and diesel choose to comply. The Regulations give them the flexibility to choose the most cost-effective approaches that work best for them.

“To enable this, the Clean Fuel Regulations establishes a credit market, whereby credits can be created through three categories of actions:

  1. From projects that reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the production of gasoline and diesel, like carbon capture and storage.
  2. From supplying low-carbon intensity fuel, such as biofuel.
  3. From supplying fuel or energy to advanced vehicle technologies, such as electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, for example. 

“Credits under the Clean Fuel Regulations can be created by both regulated parties, either by producers or importers of gasoline and diesel, and voluntary participants, such as biofuel producers. This system also creates economic opportunities for the industries that support credit creation—for example, farmers and foresters who supply feedstock for biofuel.

However, the cost to comply with the Clean Fuel Regulations will be small to begin with, and the compliance obligation will grow gradually to 2030. This allows lead time for investments and compliance actions to come online.

“The first compliance period will be July 2023 to December 2023. Regulated parties will not have to submit credits they may owe until July 2024. In addition, the renewable fuels used to comply with existing provincial and federal fuel-blending requirements will count toward the Clean Fuel Regulations. As a result, in the early years the Government of Canada expects there will be about three times as many credits in the market as will be required, meaning that the cost to acquire credits by any company needing them should be relatively low.

We have already seen significant investments being made as the demand for cleaner fuels across North America grows, and because of policies like the Clean Fuel Regulations. For example, Tidewater Renewables just completed construction of a renewable diesel complex in Prince George, British Columbia, and expects to begin production soon. Last month, the Government of Canada announced up to $86 million to support Braya Renewable Fuels to convert the refinery in Come By Chance, Newfoundland and Labrador, to produce renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel. These companies, and others like them, will be able to create and sell credits under the Clean Fuel Regulations for supplying low-carbon fuel to Canada.

“Electric vehicle charging companies operating across Canada are also already creating credits under the Clean Fuel Regulations. These credits can also be sold in the Clean Fuel Regulations credit market, and revenues can be reinvested to expand electric vehicle charging networks.

“The Clean Fuel Regulations were modelled on existing low-carbon fuel regulations in other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia and California, where we’ve seen that they have led to the growth of clean technology industries and a supply of cleaner fuels. Like those jurisdictions, we expect the Clean Fuel Regulations to continue driving investments in clean technology, low carbon fuels, and innovation across the country.”


UNESCO report on Wood Buffalo National Park shows urgent need to fix problems, First Nation says

(Source: CBC News) A report from a United Nations body on environmental threats to Canada’s largest national park shows the urgency of the problems, says a spokesperson for the First Nation that originally brought concerns about Wood Buffalo National Park to UNESCO.

The document, released last week and the latest in series of examinations of the park on the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, reaffirms threats from dams, oilsands development and climate change.

Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation says the report is clearer than ever about what needs to be done, and when, to keep the park in good environmental health.

“I think the experts recognized the sense of urgency is now,” she said Wednesday.

The Mikisew Cree brought concerns about Wood Buffalo, a World Heritage site, before UNESCO almost a decade ago.

The park’s traditional users saw water levels in the park dropping year after year, which they felt was because of British Columbia’s upstream Bennett Dam. They also feared growing oilsands tailing ponds posed a risk to water quality.

UNESCO responded to those concerns in 2016, when an investigation found those fears well grounded. Ottawa developed an $87-million plan to better manage and monitor water in the park.

The new report is an assessment of how well that plan is working. It concludes there’s no need to remove the park’s World Heritage status at this time and praises many of the plan’s initiatives, such as the creation of wildland buffer zones.

But of 14 objectives for the park, UNESCO says only two are improving, with five stable and seven deteriorating.

Five of its 17 recommendations pertain to the oilsands, including a call for a risk assessment of tailings ponds, reform to environmental monitoring, plans to reclaim the ponds that don’t threaten the park and reviewing new projects in light of what’s already been developed.

Although most of its recommendations have been made before, the new report suggests timelines. The risk assessment should be done by the end of next year; tailings reclamation plans should be complete before 2026; and land use plans should be “expedited.”

Lepine said those deadlines are the result of a visit the UNESCO team made to Fort Chipewyan, a community on the park’s boundary.

“They heard that urgency when they visited Fort Chipewyan. We are so worried.”

Lepine said concerns are even stronger after releases of oilsands wastewater from Imperial Oil’s Kearl site 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

“The Kearl incident really shed light on the importance of managing the tailings ponds, getting them cleaned up.”

Gillian Chow-Fraser of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society agreed the new report is tougher.

“It’s much more robust in its drilling into oilsands management, really calling for much more specific and larger actions to improve tailings management.”

Kendall Dilling of Pathways Alliance, a group of all major oilsands producers, said its members “treasure Wood Buffalo National Park and the rich variety of life it supports.”

In a statement, Dilling said industry efforts to manage its environmental footprint are unprecedented and pointed out the wildland buffer around the park was achieved after oilsands companies surrendered leases in the area.

“We will continue to build on a decades-long track record of meaningful engagement with Indigenous groups on all aspects of our operations and environmental performance.”

He did not respond to specific questions on risk assessment, monitoring or tailings management.

Alberta Environment and Parks spokesperson Benji Smith said the province is reviewing the report as it works toward reclaiming the oilsands. He said no tailings will be released without rigorous study.

“Work is underway to determine if, and how, oilsands mine water could safely be released at some point in the future,” he said in an email.

“Oilsands mine waters will not be approved for release until we can definitively demonstrate … that it can be done safely and that strict regulatory processes are in place to ensure the protection of human and ecological health.”

Parks Canada released a statement welcoming the UNESCO report.

“The report acknowledges that important progress has been made in the implementation of the action plan,” it said. “The government of Canada has been working in close collaboration with partners to advance research, ecological monitoring and ecological restoration projects throughout the park.”

It did not respond to any of the report’s recommendations, which include a call for further funding to improve water levels. Ottawa’s funding program for Wood Buffalo ends this year.

Lepine said even though many of UNESCO’s recommendations have been ignored, it has still been worthwhile to involve the group.

Some progress has been made, she said. And the threats to Wood Buffalo are now being taken seriously.

“We really showed the world, we showed Canada, that our concerns were real and substantive.”