Week ending March 15th, 2024

ESAAs Environmental Summit

April 15-17, 2023
Kananaskis Mountain Lodge

Meet the Risk Management Panel

The Environmental Summit will feature 8 panel discussions, including the following panel: 
Navigating the Environmental Business Landscape: A Comprehensive Approach to Risk Management, Insurance and Liability Mitigation

Businesses operating in the environmental services sector confront a complex web of environmental and professional exposures, with potential liabilities that can significantly impact their sustainability. To help industry professionals develop robust risk management programs, our panel brings together experts from diverse backgrounds, including a Commercial Insurance Advisor, Environmental Lawyer, and Environmental Insurance Underwriting Leader.

Panelist Focus:

Identifying and Understanding Liabilities:
  • Exploration of how and where environmental liabilities arise.
  • Consequences for clients and their businesses.

Effective Strategies for Liability Transfer:

  • Examination of strategies to transfer environmental liabilities.
  • Assessment of the effectiveness of various transfer mechanisms.

The Role of Insurance in Risk Mitigation:

  • Insights into how insurance can be a key player in mitigating environmental risks.
  • Overview of different insurance products available in the marketplace, such as Contractors Pollution Liability and Pollution Legal Liability/Professional Liability with pollution coverage.

Coverage Extent for Reclamation and Remediation Activities:

  • Discussion on the scope of coverage provided by environmental insurance for reclamation or remediation activities.

Non-Insurance Methods of Risk Transfer:

  • Exploration of alternative, non-insurance methods for transferring environmental risk.

Integration of Insurance in Legal Processes:

  • Analysis of how insurance coverage fits into the legal processes that unfold during environmental incidents like spills.

Real-world Claims Examples:

  • Examination of actual claims examples to illustrate the practical applications of risk management strategies and insurance in environmental services.



Andrea Phillips, is an Account Executive at Lloyd Sadd in Edmonton where she supports clients in their risk management goals and insurance program strategy. She specializes in Environmental and Professional Liability and has a keen interest in real estate and development. Andrea works with her clients to gain an in-depth understanding of their business, risk exposures and tolerance, helping them to grow their business through incorporating risk management strategies.


Magdalena Cammidge joined Lloyd Sadd in 2005, bringing with her varied and extensive experience in commercial insurance. She has been in the industry since 2000, working on complex commercial accounts in large brokerage firms. With over 20 years of technical experience in insurance and risk management, Magdalena specializes in the direction, development and delivery of insurance and risk management services to her clients. Magdalena’s role includes gaining an intimate understanding of the clients’ business and working with them to create effective Risk Management solutions, ultimately helping clients in building an even stronger organization. Magdalena heads up the Professional Services Practice at Lloyd Sadd specializing in Professional Liability and Risk Management for Consultants.

Eric Appelt, Eric Appelt is an associate lawyer at McLennan Ross LLP in Edmonton where he has practiced since  his call to the bar in 2019. Eric maintains a diverse practice in commercial litigation, professional discipline, insurance defense and environmental regulatory matters, representing both individuals and corporations across a
number of industries.

Andrew de Reuiter, Andrew is the Environmental Liability National Segment Leader at Totten Insurance Group where his role revolves around understanding environmental issues, their impact on various stakeholders and what role insurance can play in protecting stakeholders. Within his role at Totten Insurance Group, Andrew is responsible for leading the underwriting team that works to mitigate environmental risks, ensuring a balance between business objectives and ecological responsibilities. Andrew’s journey into the environmental domain began while pursuing his BA at Carlton University, in Ottawa, in Environmental studies. This has equipped him with a comprehensive understanding of environmental dynamics, sustainability practices and their intersection with various industries.

Register now: https://esaa.org/summit/register/


Protecting Albertans from drought

New investments will make Alberta more naturally drought-resistant and create a more modern water-management system to support growing communities.

Alberta’s population continues to rise, increasing the demand for water from communities and businesses. At the same time, parts of the province have experienced droughts or water shortages in recent years and are at risk of a severe drought this year. Action is needed to better share, store, conserve and manage water.

If Budget 2024 passes, the Alberta government would invest more than $35 million to help maximize how water is used and help prevent future droughts from affecting communities. Creating a 21st century water-management system and healthy, thriving wetlands and watersheds will provide long-term drought protection and help the economy continue to grow.

“We must find new and better ways to reduce the impacts of droughts and make every drop of water count. That’s why we are taking action to improve wetlands and transform how water is managed in our province. This funding would help maximize Alberta’s long-term water supply to ensure communities and businesses thrive.”

Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas

Improving water management and conservation

As part of the $35 million, Budget 2024 includes $23 million over three years for improving the province’s water management system, increasing water availability for communities and businesses. This funding would be used to advance four pillars of the province’s water strategy:

  1. Water storage: $4.5 million would be invested to study a new Ardley Water Reservoir in the Red Deer Basin. Alberta would also launch a province-wide review to determine other areas where new water storage projects would be most beneficial.
  2. Water management: The province would conduct a detailed review of the current water management and regulatory system to identify new opportunities to better utilize water.
  3. Water conservation: The province would work with water users and partners to identity new ways to improve water conservation, efficiency and productivity.
  4. Real-time data and information: The province would continue modernizing Alberta’s water management information system to allow real-time, digital information that is available anytime, anywhere.

More information about these initiatives will be released as projects and programs unfold.

Improving wetlands and watersheds

Wetlands and watersheds provide useful, natural protection against drought. They help store water during rains and spring runoff, and can help maintain water levels in rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. They can also help cool and humidify surrounding areas and maintain healthy ecosystems.

The government is also investing $8.7 million for the Wetland Replacement Program and $3.5 million for the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program to improve Alberta’s natural drought protection.

The Wetlands Replacement Program helps municipalities and non-profit organizations construct or restore wetlands in Alberta. These partners work with private or public landowners to restore wetlands that were previously drained, partially drained or filled-in, and to fund construction of new wetlands in appropriate sites.

The Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program provides grants to support projects that reduce the intensity, magnitude, duration and effects of flood and drought. Previous grants have helped restore riverbanks, stabilize stream banks, improve natural drainage and support outreach and public education.

“This announcement of additional funds for wetlands and watersheds would help in efforts to combat the ongoing drought. Utilizing a mix of farm communities, local government, watersheds and non-profits to deliver these important projects is a prudent investment by the province to ensure we are managing limited water resources as effectively as we can.”

Jim Fisher, VP of Canadian policy, Delta Waterfowl

“Wetland replacement and watershed restoration programs are an excellent investment in our natural infrastructure. These projects will enhance Albertans’ ability to mitigate against drought and floods while enhancing our natural environment and water quality. It’s a win-win approach.”

Andre Asselin, executive director, Alberta Water Council

“The Bow River Basin Council applauds this investment. It would build upon previous work and maintain the momentum necessary to build resilience for our communities. The Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program and the Wetland Replacement Program have been key components in maintaining and improving Alberta’s natural drought protection.”

Mike Murray, executive director, Bow River Basin Council

Budget 2024 is a responsible plan to strengthen health care and education, build safe and supportive communities, manage the province’s resources wisely and promote job creation to continue to build Alberta’s competitive advantage.

Quick facts

  • Since 2020, over $14 million has been invested into the Wetland Replacement Program, restoring 440 hectares of wetlands in partnership with eight municipalities and two non-profit organizations. This includes $4 million in landowner payments to rural Albertans participating in the program.
  • Municipalities and non-profit organizations are eligible to receive funding under the Wetland Replacement Program. Applications are accepted year-round.
  • Since 2020, over $11 million has been invested in the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program. Municipalities and non-profit organizations can apply for funding for projects that will enhance communities’ ability to withstand future flooding or droughts, and promote the ongoing stewardship and preservation of Alberta’s watersheds.
  • Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program applications for 2024-25 will open later this year.
  • Construction of the Springbank Off-stream Reservoir (SR1) is underway and is expected to be operational in 2025.
  • A feasibility study on options for the Bow River Reservoir is expected to be completed this year.
  • A feasibility study on the Eyremore Dam project is expected to begin this year.


Alberta: Supporting Liability Management on Indigenous Land

Alberta’s government is supporting Indigenous efforts to keep unused federal funds from the Site Rehabilitation Program in the province.

Since the beginning of the Site Rehabilitation Program in May 2020, Alberta’s government has been working with Indigenous communities, Indigenous businesses, the Indian Resource Council and the Metis Settlements General Council to perform well, pipeline, and oil and gas site closure and reclamation work. As part of the Site Rehabilitation Program, the Government of Canada allocated $1 billion in funding to Alberta, with a dedicated $133.3 million to clean up inactive oil and gas sites within Indigenous communities.

Through the Site Rehabilitation Program, approximately $1 billion in grant funding was approved and allocated to more than 500 Alberta-based companies, resulting in the creation of approximately 4,135 jobs. Approximately $137 million of the $1 billion in funding remains unused by grant recipients and the federal government is now requesting all unused funds be returned to Ottawa.

“These are federal lands and the Site Rehabilitation Program provided dedicated federal funding for an economic relief program. If the federal government is serious about reconciliation, we encourage them to release the funds so this important work can continue. We look forward to finding more opportunities to continue our collaboration with Indigenous communities.”

Brian Jean, Minister of Energy and Minerals

Closure work was completed on 1,824 inactive well sites during the Indigenous community grant program. Chiefs from Treaty 6, 7 and 8 territories and the Indian Resource Council have requested that the federal government allocate these unused funds to site clean-up on Indigenous lands instead of demanding the funds’ return. Re-allocating these funds would maintain the momentum achieved by the success of the Site Rehabilitation Program to clean up inactive oil and gas sites on Indigenous land. Alberta’s government stands beside the chiefs in support of their request.

“The Site Rehabilitation Program is a tried, tested and true vehicle for economic reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. It has provided meaningful job opportunities and work experience while also reclaiming the land so the communities can use it again. We need flexibility from the federal government to continue this important work.”

Rick Wilson, Minister of Indigenous Relations

“We acknowledge the work that has been done under the Site Rehabilitation Program, but there is more to be done. This is a liability of the lessees, and the Alberta Government is holding them accountable through the Well Closure Program. However, time is not on our side. We have a very limited land base and a growing population. We must do the necessary land stewardship immediately.”

Chief Cody Thomas, Enoch Cree Nation

The Site Rehabilitation Program supported the energy services sector in the province during an economic downturn, keeping jobs and expertise in Alberta while the sector rebounded. The program also helped grow capacity within Indigenous communities, allowing contractors to continue to participate in the energy sector once the program ended in 2023.

A total of 34,963 applications were approved and completed their grant agreements. Of the 34,963 total approved and completed grant agreements, 11,567 Indigenous company applications were approved and 103 Indigenous contractors participated in the program.

“We are doing what we can to keep that program going to maintain the success of the initial Site Rehabilitation Program. About 350 community members received jobs and skills training. By removing the aging wells and pipelines, we can free up land to use for housing and other purposes. This is why we need the surplus funds.”

Stephen Buffalo, president and CEO, Indian Resource Council of Canada

Feds rebuff Alberta’s request to reallocate pandemic-era well cleanup funds

(Source: Calgary Herald) Alberta is asking the federal government to allow it to keep $137 million in funding it failed to use for oil and gas well cleanup for the same activities on Indigenous land.

The federal government meanwhile says it has already granted Alberta an extension to spend the full $1-billion fund, arguing the province failed to spend a large portion of the fund created to give jobs to oil and gas workers laid off in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberta’s request to allocate the funding to site cleanup on Indigenous lands has received backing from chiefs from Treaty 6, 7 and 8 territories, and the Indian Resource Council.

At the heart of Alberta’s request is funding created by the federal government early in the COVID-19 pandemic that was structured to save jobs and jump-start efforts to reduce the number of abandoned wells in Alberta.

In late April 2020, the federal government announced a wide-scale economic response plan that included its Site Rehabilitation Program (SRP) — a $1-billion fund to chip away at Alberta’s backlog of abandoned oil and gas wells. The funding came as thousands of oilfield workers were unemployed during the height of COVID-19, resulting in more than 4,000 jobs being created.

With that program coming to a close, $137 million of that $1 billion in grant funding remains unused. The federal government is requesting it be returned to Ottawa, according to the Alberta government, which currently holds the money.

Cleaning up an abandoned well can cost between $100,000 to several million dollars, according to the federal government.

“Even though the money has lapsed, it’s just simply a time in the calendar,” said Alberta Energy Minister Brian Jean. He did not say why the funding hasn’t been fully spent.

“They’ve already allocated this on the books. Just let us keep it, manage it and clean this up.”

In a statement to Postmedia, Katherine Cuplinskas, press secretary to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the federal government has asked the Alberta government several times to return the remaining SRP funds. The initial agreement required Alberta to return outstanding funds in May 2023.

“Given that (the Alberta government) failed to invest a large portion of the $1 billion we provided them, even with an extension of timelines, and that the economy is well into its recovery, we expect the Government of Alberta to abide by the agreement that they signed, and return all unspent funds, as other provinces have,” Cuplinskas wrote.

“Any allegation that the federal government is not helping Indigenous Peoples share in Canada’s economic prosperity, including from the energy industry, is false.”

Cuplinskas added that with the oil and gas sector’s recovery in recent years, Alberta should be able to return the remaining funds without issue.

An Enoch Cree Nation chief said the First Nation has a growing population and limited land base, meaning imminent land stewardship is needed.

“This is a liability of the lessees, and the Alberta government is holding them accountable through the Well Closure Program. However, time is not on our side,” said Chief Cody Thomas of the Enoch Cree Nation.

The SRP has resulted in 1,824 inactive well sites being closed amid the Indigenous community grant program, which set aside $133.3 million to clean up inactive wells in Indigenous communities.

Martin Olszynski, a University of Calgary resource lawyer and frequent critic of the province’s remediation policies, said the federal program “wasn’t intended to subsidize well cleanup” despite it indirectly having that effect.

“The primary rationale was about sustaining jobs in the context of broader COVID relief,” Olszynski said. As oil and gas companies have rebounded sharply from low commodity prices, both preceding and during the pandemic, some have in recent years posted all-time record profits.

In that context, the SRP’s intended use has come and gone, Olszynski said.

“This is essentially now an industry subsidy. What we’re talking about here is subsidizing well cleanup that should have been done and should be the responsibility of the operators of those wells,” he said. The funding does present economic opportunities for Indigenous communities, he said, but questioned why oil and gas companies aren’t being required to clean up those wells.

Internal documents obtained in January by University of Calgary researcher Drew Yewchuk suggested Alberta’s energy regulator believes the total cost of well cleanup in Alberta to be about $88 billion — significantly more than the $33 billion it publicly estimated earlier this year.



First Nations in Alberta want Ottawa to classify compound found in oilsands tailings as toxic

The move could force a long-awaited human health study into development impacts, bring the industry under new regulations and affect its ability to release treated wastewater.

“There are big gaps in science on the human health side,” said Bronwyn Roe, lawyer for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which uses lands adjacent to oilsands development.

“If the ministers do this assessment, they could create new regulations.”

That First Nation’s request is supported by the Mikisew Cree, whose members live in northeastern Alberta and in the Northwest Territories.

“Under federal legislation … fish have more rights than humans,” it wrote in a March 11 letter to federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault. “The government of Canada cannot wait for more research to make this assessment.”

The two nations are concerned about naphthenic acids, formed from the breakdown of petrochemicals and are typically found in tailings and other oilsands wastewater. Peer-reviewed research has found the complex hydrocarbons are toxic to fish, affect hormone function in humans and other mammals, and may be carcinogenic.

Oilsands producers are required to report releases of those chemicals. But allowable limits for their presence in surface or groundwater are guidelines, not regulations.

In January, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada released a report that concluded naphthenic acids shouldn’t be classified as toxic.

However, that report only dealt with commercially produced versions, not those found in tailings.

“[Oilsands] naphthenic acids differ in source, composition, properties and use compared to commercial naphthenic acids,” the report says.

The First Nations are using recent changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act asking Guilbeault to review that January finding.

A review would include research into the health effects of oilsands naphthenic acids, both on their own and in conjunction with other chemicals — a long-standing goal of both the Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew.

“A huge piece is that human health study,” said Roe. “They’ve been asking for that for years.

“They want better studies of the human health impacts of oilsands operations, including releases from tailings ponds.”

A ruling that naphthenic acids should be considered a toxin would also affect regulations governing the substances, Roe said.

“Once the impact on human health is better understood, I think the government will be compelled to take action to mitigate the human health effects and the environmental effects.”

Roe notes the finding could affect plans to release treated tailings pond water into the Athabasca River. Industry and the federal government are currently developing rules that would govern how water from those ponds can be treated and released into the river.

Those regulations are expected in 2025. Roe said classifying naphthenic acids as toxic could affect those plans.

“It would have an effect on tailings pond management,” she said.

Kendall Dilling, president of the oilsands industry group Pathways Alliance, said further research on naphthenic acids is underway.

“We respect the leaders’ desire to seek information for the health of their community,” he said in an email. “We will continue to co-operate with government should additional research be advanced in response to this request.”

A spokesman for Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) said Guilbeault and Health Minister Mark Holland are considering the request. The department is conducting further studies on naphthenic acids.

Oilsands tailings ponds now store about 1.4 trillion litres of water, or 1.4 cubic kilometres. Some evidence suggests the water has already entered the environment.

A 2017 report from the environmental watchdog of the North American free trade deal found “scientifically valid” evidence that tailings have escaped the ponds, although not the oilsands leases. That finding is echoed by recent groundwater reports from industry.

That seepage may now be off lease.

Alberta’s Oilsands Monitoring Program shows a common proxy for oilsands residue at a sampling station in the Muskeg River began climbing drastically in March 2022 and was 18 times higher than the 2021 average within a year.

According to ECCC, Guilbeault and Holland have until June 7 to respond to the First Nations’ requests.


‘What exactly did we get?’ Alberta senator questions hundreds of millions to clean up orphan wells

(Source: CTV News)  An Alberta senator is trying to get answers about orphan well cleanup in the province and whether federal funding is being properly used to do so. 

On Monday, Sen. Paula Simons cited a report from the Parliamentary budget officer (PBO) released in January that shows more than half a billion federal dollars for orphan and inactive well cleanup has gone to large energy companies.

“I asked (the PBO) whether any of that $556 million had gone to cleaning up actual orphaned wells. And I was informed by the parliamentary budget analyst that not one single orphan well in Alberta  — not one — had been cleaned up with this grant money,” Simons said Monday. 

The federal government allocated $1.7 billion for the cleanup of inactive and orphan wells in 2020, with $1 billion going to Alberta. The money is being handed out through the province’s Site Rehabilitation Program (SRP) in stages. The Orphan Well Association was also given a $200 million loan at the time. 

The PBO confirmed to CTV News that its analysts found that, of the $1 billion in funding to Alberta, more than half had been given to large companies it considers to be viable. 

At the time of the report, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) had received $102 million, Cenovus Energy received $12 million, Husky Energy was given $16 million and Imperial Oil Resources Limited received $11.7 million. Those amounts are increasing as the province works through applications and the different stages of the SRP. 

“So now I’d like to ask, what exactly did we get for the $102.5 million we gave to CNRL, or the $18 million we gave to Cenovus, or the $16 million we gave to Husky, or the $12 million we gave to Imperial Oil under this federal cleanup plan?” Simons asked. 

“And to what are we actually going to do to clean up the wells that are actually orphaned?” 

The government representative in the senate, Marc Gold, said he’d make inquiries into Simons’s questions. 

In a statement, CNRL said the federal funding helped the company and others reclaim inactive well sites and support job creation. 

“Canadian Natural is committed to the effective and efficient management of our liabilities and environmental footprint, including reducing the inventory of inactive wells through a robust program of well abandonment and progressive reclamation activities,” the statement reads in part.

“For example, Canadian Natural abandoned 5,570 inactive wells in western Canada from 2015 to 2020 in addition to over 3,000 inactive wells abandoned in 2021.”


BC must update plans for hazardous spill response, audit warns

British Columbia is not currently managing hazardous spills as effectively as it could be, warns a new report from the Office of the Auditor General of B.C. 

Among the concerns raised in the February report is that the plan that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy currently uses to coordinate a provincial-level response to a major hazardous spill is out of date. 

The B.C. Hazardous Material Response Plan was developed in 2013 under the ministry’s Environmental Emergency Program. It defines the province’s approach to a significant release, or threat of release, of hazardous materials into the environment. 

B.C.’s Auditor General, Michael Pickup, says the plan requires an update. 

“Updates to the plans were required to align with the province’s approach to emergency planning,” the report states. “Staff also identified that revisions to the plans were needed to meet commitments under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

Pickup also noted that the Inland Oil Spill Response Plan requires an update. It defines the scope and structure of the province’s role in responding to a major inland oil spill resulting from a pipeline rupture, train derailment, motor vehicle incident, or other events.

In response, the ministry says it has prepared a draft updated provincial land-based hazardous materials spill response plan that will adhere to the new planning requirements in the Emergency and Disaster Management Act and associated regulations. 

The auditor’s report shows 5,306 spills and other environmental emergencies were reported in the 2021-22 fiscal year, up from 4,436 in 2018-19. The most recent numbers for the 2022-23 fiscal year show 4,889 reports.

B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy says the province will act on all nine of the recommendations offered by the Office of the Auditor General of B.C. in its report.  

“The auditor general’s recommendations reinforce the work we are doing to strengthen and improve our processes, and our engagement with the Office of Auditor General is informing our work to develop a new environmental-emergency management action plan. We will release this plan later this year,” announced George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, in a statement. 

Despite the province’s major spills response plan requiring an update, the auditor’s report had positive findings as well. It found that response officers followed policy and procedures to assess all seven high-risk incidents that took place between November 23, 2020, and March 1, 2023. 

Among the other major findings from the provincial watchdog was that the Environmental Emergency Program hadn’t reviewed its training and development procedure annually as required. It has not been updated since it was implemented in 2018.

“If training isn’t reviewed every year, there’s a risk of it not aligning with current standards, regulations and best practices,” the report warned.

The audit also drew attention to First Nations notification protocols following major incidents. With over 200 distinct First Nations in the province, the Environmental Emergency Program has recognized that it has “difficulties consistently notifying” potentially affected First Nations, and planned to pilot an automated notification system for 14 coastal First Nations. 

“We are already taking concrete actions to improve our processes,” Heyman responded. “We have done important work with our federal partners and Indigenous Nations in the Northern Shelf Bioregion to develop collaborative response and recovery plans, in addition to our work with Alertable to ensure First Nations are informed quickly when an incident is reported,” the minister added.

Additionally, the audit notes that the polluter-pay principle is a “key tenet” of hazardous spills regulation. The ministry must try to recover costs relating to staff time, equipment, and contractors, from the responsible person, the audit states. The Environmental Emergency program, however, has not initiated cost recovery as required, or recovered substantive costs from those responsible for hazardous spills, the audit found. 

Pickup found that response officers had only initiated cost recovery for 21 of the 44 Code 2 spills that took place between November 23, 2020, and March 1, 2023. He said there was a known responsible person for 15 of the 23 remaining Code 2 spills, but no documentation explaining why cost recovery wasn’t initiated.

By the end of February 2023, the cost-recovery program had recovered approximately $900,000 of spill-related costs and approximately $13.9 million remained outstanding, most of which relates to the 2019 clean up of the Neucel pulp mill in Port Alice, which declared bankruptcy in 2020.


Endangered sage grouse could soon disappear from the Canadian Prairies

(Source: CBC News)  The greater sage grouse, which once numbered in the thousands in Western Canada, is coming perilously close to vanishing from the Prairies, new government research shows.

Known for its unusual mating dance, the species — found in areas where sagebrush grows — has been endangered for decades.

The round-bodied bird is among the species most at risk in Canada. The latest data from government conservationists provides little hope for their future.

Mark Boyce, a University of Alberta ecology professor and Alberta Conservation Association endowed chair in fisheries and wildlife, said populations are on the brink.

“It’s desperate,” said Boyce, who has researched sage grouse for decades.

“They are going to go extinct, it’s almost certain.”

Sage grouse once numbered in the thousands in Canada, if not the hundreds of thousands, with a sweeping range of 100,000 square kilometres.

Today, there are fewer than 100 in Canada. Their range in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan has shrunk to less than 10 per cent of what it once was.

An Alberta government census published last month showed only 45 sage grouse are believed to remain in the province. Last year’s spring count recorded 17 males, down from the 22 counted in 2022.

Only three of Alberta’s 38 known lek sites — critical mating grounds for the species —remain active, according to the provincial report.

In southern Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park, only 24 males were spotted during the 2023 spring count at the only remaining leks in the province. 

Boyce said the sage grouse is especially vulnerable as Western Canada braces for a summer drought that will further damage grazing lands that are critical habitat.

“We can’t sustain a population that small, especially given climate change effects,” he said.

“We’ll probably lose them this year.”

Gathering detailed census data on the endangered species has long proved a challenge. Population estimates are based on the number of males counted on the leks, expanses of open prairie where the birds gather each spring to find mates.

For the most recent Alberta count, government researchers visited each lek three times, watching with binoculars to count the chubby, large-chested males as they arrived on the dancing grounds.

The spring mating ritual is a spectacle that has made the birds beloved among biologists and birdwatchers.

Males, with the dappled brown feathers of their starburst tails on full display, gather at leks and begin their dances at sunrise — strutting, posing and thrusting their beaks.

Yellow sacks on their chests fill with air and then deflate, creating a burbling sound before the birds do a distinctive swish of their wings.

“A female will show up and she’ll wander through the lek and and it’s literally like she’s checking these guys out,” Boyce said.

“The males will do it again and again, and the ones that strut most vigorously are the ones that the female will choose.” 

It’s ladies’ choice, as hens line up for the chosen male, he said.

“It gets fast and furious.”

Habitat loss caused by industrial development has posed the biggest threat to the species, Boyce said. Unlike other birds that can thrive around humans, the sage grouse is especially fragile to any kind of disturbance.

Noise caused by pumpjacks or nearby roads, or the construction of fencing or power lines, can all cause the birds to abandon the area.

The species has been listed as endangered in Canada since 1998. It was designated an endangered species in Saskatchewan in 1999. Alberta followed suit the following year. 

But numbers have continued to wane, and in 2013, in response to a court challenge, Ottawa introduced an emergency protection order for the species.

In an effort to halt further destruction of sage grouse habitat, the protection order imposed strict restrictions on provincial and Crown lands where the birds are found.

Boyce said the order was critical, but more must be done to preserve the few viable sagebrush habitats that remain.

“We’ve already done so much damage to sage grouse habitat that it’s going to be really, really tough to bring them back. It’s an almost hopeless situation.”

Joel Nicholson, a senior wildlife biologist with Alberta Environment, said while sage grouse are extremely vulnerable, he remains hopeful that conservation efforts will succeed.

Alberta researchers are working with landowners, industry and scientists across the Canada-U.S. border to help bolster existing populations, Nicholson said.

The work includes reclamation efforts on privately-owned grazing lands, a seed program that will ensure sagebrush is planted on abandoned oil sites, and introducing new birds into the wild.

Around 40 hens from Montana, equipped with GPS trackers, will be released in Alberta this spring in an attempt to bolster the population.

“It is severe but we do have a lot on the go to try to turn the situation around,” Nicholson said.

“I really hope that we are successful in keeping them in Alberta and it won’t be for lack of trying if we did lose them.” 

Miles Anderson’s ranch, south of Fir Mountain in southern Saskatchewan, is among the last places sage grouse can be found in the province.

One lek sits on a fenceline that borders Grasslands National Park. Anderson, who has helped government conservation efforts for years, said collaboration between scientists and landowners must continue.

Sage grouse are a linchpin of the grassland ecosystem, an endangered habitat that should be deeply valued, and something irreplaceable will be lost if their annual dance ends, Anderson said. 

“These really biodiverse areas, it’s really important that we try to maintain them.”


Critics say Alberta renewables report contradicts government proposals for industry

(Source: CBC News) Critics are asking why the Alberta government’s proposed regulations on renewable power seem to have ignored the conclusions of its own utilities regulator.

“How did they end up creating the renewable regulations they introduced?” asked New Democrat environment critic Sarah Elmeligi. “The regulations do not match the content of the report.”

Paul McLauchlin of Rural Municipalities Alberta agreed.

“They swung too far away from the recommendations of the [report]. I’m worried about market distortion,” McLauchlin said.

On Wednesday, the Alberta Utilities Commission publicly released a report the provincial government had asked it to prepare as part of an inquiry into the impacts of Alberta’s booming renewable power industry.

The government has had the report since Jan. 31.

On Feb. 28, the day before it ended a six-month moratorium on new approvals for renewables, the government introduced a set of proposed new rules for the industry.

The proposals rule out wind and solar on Alberta’s best farmland, impose a 35-kilometre buffer zone around protected areas and so-called “pristine viewscapes,” and would require developers to post some kind of financial security for reclamation.

In contrast, the commission’s report concludes wind and solar power poses little threat to Alberta’s agriculture or environment and that concerns over reclamation and “pristine viewscapes” can be largely addressed with modifications to existing rules.

Renewables are rarely sited on top-quality farmland, it says. Even if they were, says the report, they would use up less than one per cent of that land by 2041.

Reclamation of renewable sites is easier and cheaper than for other industries, the report says. And it concluded there’s no consistent way to write regulations protecting a vista that may stir one person but leave another cold.

The Canadian Press on Wednesday was promised an interview with Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf, but it was cancelled by the minister’s office Thursday.

In the legislature, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith defended her government’s policies.

“If you put acres and acres of solar panels on fields that could be used for irrigation … you cannot grow agriculture,” she said.

“If you put up wind turbines the size of the Calgary Tower or within a couple of kilometres of our beautiful UNESCO Heritage sites … it really does interfere with our viewscape.”

She said the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Australia all have some kind of “parameters” around the siting of renewable projects.

Still, the proposed regulations go beyond what the commission calls for, said Jorden Dye of the Business Renewables Centre, which links renewable power generators with prospective consumers.

“The existing regulatory framework is sufficient,” he said. “The government is going against the recommendations of its own commission and singling out the renewables industry.”

Elmeligi said the idea of protecting scenic landscapes was considered for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan but rejected as unworkable.

“It can’t be measured, it can’t be quantified. How can you hold that as a criteria for development?” Elmeligi said.

“Having a really subjective, wishy-washy criteria like viewscape instantly removes [business] certainty.”

McLauchlin said some elements of the commission’s report appear to have found their way into government policy. They include an increased voice for municipalities in land use decisions and a recognition that some parts of the province will be more affected by renewable development than others.

He said he would also like to see more transparency in the cleanup provisions of agreements between developers and landowners.

“I don’t disagree with the Alberta Utilities Commission, but some level of oversight is needed.”

But he fears the government proposals are restrictive and arbitrary.

“Case by case is the best solution,” he said.




Upcoming Events

ESAA Environmental Summit

April 15-17, 2024
Kananaskis Mountain Lodge

 Agenda Now Available 

The Draft Agenda is now available for the 2nd annual ESAA Summit – April 15 – 17th at the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge.

Agenda features 7 panel discussions:

  • Toward Sustainable Development: Dual (and Competing) Imperatives for Industry and Municipalities
  • Net Zero – What Does This Mean and What Can We Do?
  • Sustainability in Action: Navigating Complexities of the Three Pillars of Sustainability
  • Wildfires – Disaster Management Risk Management and Climate Resiliency
  • The Future of Water
  • A Breathe of Fresh Air .. Maybe? Balancing Noise, Odour, Particulate and Contaminant Air Emissions
  • Navigating the Environmental Business Landscape: A Comprehensive Approach to Risk Management, Insurance and Liability Mitigation
The program also includes an Indigenous Awareness and Inclusion Panel – Walking towards Economic Reconciliation and the ESAA Annual General Meeting and two great keynotes.
Emissions Reduction Alberta
Justin Riemer, Emissions Reduction Alberta

Technology & Artificial Intelligence in the Wild
Brian Keating, Going Wild 

Full details at: Agenda – ESAA

Hotel Accommodations: The 2024 edition will take place at the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge.   Discover an extraordinary experience at Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Autograph Collection, where you’re surrounded by mountainous beauty and modern luxury. Nestled against the enchanting Canadian Rockies, our upscale hotel is perfect for unique summer and winter activities.  Room rates at the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge start at $245 + taxes.  Book your room at: Kananaskis Mountain Lodge – ESAA

Registration: Register now at: Register – ESAA



BEST 2024 

BEST 2024 Registration Now Open!
Earlybird Deadline: March 2nd
Register now and save up to $100

Join us for the 11th annual Bettering Environmental Stewardship & Technology (BEST) Conference! The BCEIA’s BEST Conference attracts environmental professionals every May for two and a half days of technical sessions, networking opportunities, and a sponsor tradeshow.

Mark your calendars now so you don’t miss out on the “BEST” opportunity to network and learn about the current environment industry in BC!

Early Bird Registration Fees
BCEIA MEMBERS  $675               
NON-MEMBERS    $825              
Prices are excusive of GST

Full details at: https://bceia.com/events-calendar/#id=106&cid=1941&wid=1601


ESAA is coming to Southern Alberta!

Do you have staff or clients in the Medicine Hat/Lethbridge/Calgary area?  Share the following event information with them.


Join us for 1 or all 3 Mixers as always we will have Drinks, Food and Fun! 

ESAA will be donating 50% of all registration fees to; 

Medicine Hat:

  • The Medicine Hat and District Food bank is the next step in the evolution of a strong and sustainable city.  Their mission is to build community by improving the lives of all community members through the power of local food.


  • The Friends of the Helen Schuler Nature Centre Society support a community of environmentally responsible citizens with nature-based educational experiences, presentations, and workshops.  Our desire is to further position the Helen Schuler Nature Centre as a world-class facility that connects visitors and residents to the many benefits of the great outdoors. We want to facilitate interactive experiences and memorable moments.


  • The Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS) is a grassroots animal welfare organization with a foundation of compassion and kindness, embodied by its hard-working staff, volunteers, foster homes and supporters. Their goal is to help homeless animals in communities across Alberta and provide community support programs to address the root causes of animal overpopulation and homelessness. Every day AARCS receives calls about animals in need of help — from broken bones, gunshot wounds, embedded porcupine quills, and mange to deadly diseases such as parvovirus. AARCS strives to ensure that these animals receive the medical care they need, along with the chance to recover in a loving foster home.

To Sponsor or to RSVP, visit: ESAA Mixers


PTAC Methane Leadership Summit – April 17th and 18th, 2024

Join the Methane Leadership Summit 2024, hosted by PTAC in collaboration with CRIN. The summit aims to drive transformative change in methane emissions reduction strategies. Attendees will engage in dialogue, gain insights from leaders, and explore cutting-edge solutions to mitigate methane emissions. The summit will feature distinguished speakers and researchers delivering presentations on vital topics. Attendees will learn about advancements in detection and mitigation technologies and the evolving regulatory landscape. The event will foster networking and collaboration through panel discussions and breaks, propelling the industry toward a more sustainable future.

Register before April 1st to be entered to win a $300 gift card to Fairmont Hotels and Resorts or Rimrock Resort Hotel. Click here to learn more and register: https://www.ptac.org/current-events/mls-2024/.



ESAA Job Board

Check out the new improved ESAA Job Board.  Members can post ads for free.

Current Listings:
  • Intermediate Environmental Scientist, Arletta Environmental Consulting Corp
  • Environmental Co-op Student – Trace Associates Inc.
  • Environmental Student – Trace Associates Inc.
  • Junior Geoscientist – Trace Associates Inc.
  • Junior Environmental Scientist – Trace Associates Inc.
  • Technical Operations (Environmental) – Edmonton, Alberta – Nichols Environmental
  • Technical Operations (Environmental) – Calgary, Alberta – Nichols Environmental
  • Human Resources Generalist – Edmonton, Alberta – Nichols Environmental
  • Junior Environmental Consultant – North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc.
  • Intermediate Environmental Consultant – North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc.
  • Senior Environmental Planner –Stantec
  • Junior Environmental Consultant – North Shore Environmental Consultants Inc.
  • Site Investigation & Remediation (SIR) Team Lead –Stantec Consulting Services Inc.
  • Jr. To Intermediate Environmental Project Manager/Hydrogeologist – TerraLogix Solutions Inc.
  • Intermediate to Senior Environmental Consultant – Contaminated Sites – EBM Geoscience Inc.
  • Environmental Risk Assessor – EBM Geoscience Inc.
  • REMEDIATION LEAD – Salix Resource Management Ltd.
  • Senior Environmental Project Manager – Arletta Environmental Consulting




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