Water quality monitoring
Suncor’s oil sands operations are approved to return water back to the Athabasca River. Wastewater discharges are closely monitored by Suncor and reported to government regulators.
Most of the discharged volume is 'once through' water used for cooling that does not come into contact with any process materials. The remainder is process effluent and surface runoff waters. Processes are in place to ensure that all water returned to the river is analyzed and treated prior to discharge to ensure quality standards are stringently met.
Suncor recognizes the importance of ongoing aquatic monitoring of the Athabasca River. Management reviews the impact of water use and water quality as part of a regular risk review. Further, Suncor recognizes the importance of preserving the health of the Athabasca River. The river provides habitat for many species of fish and other aquatic organisms and feeds into Lake Athabasca. It is also a source of water for the industry itself.
We will continue to closely monitor our own operations to ensure we meet or exceed existing and future water quality standards and environmental monitoring requirements, including supporting a recent joint move by the Alberta and Canadian governments to strengthen environmental monitoring of the oil sands region.
The Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring
In February 2012, the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta launched the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring. The plan, to be jointly managed by the two governments, strengthens existing environmental monitoring programs for air, water, land and biodiversity in the oil sands region. By the time the plan is fully implemented over three years:
- the number of sampling sites will be higher and over a larger area
- the number and types of parameters being sampled will increase
- the frequency of sampling will increase significantly
- the methodologies for monitoring both air and water will be improved
- an integrated, open data management program will be created
In terms of water monitoring, key features include:
- improved co-ordination of sampling practices to improve the understanding of potential cumulative impacts
- new sediment monitoring throughout the Athabasca River system to establish baseline and downstream conditions of potential contaminants
- new systematic sampling of snow and rainfall to assess the relationship between airborne processes, deposition, and surface runoff entering tributaries and moving downstream
- new monitoring techniques for measuring potential ice contaminants, ice processes, the impact of freeze-up and breakup, sediment processes, and water measurement under ice
- new integrated and intensive scientific investigations on representative watershed
- new intensive monitoring of sources of potential near-surface groundwater contaminants and pathways
The monitoring program will undergo external expert peer review after the third year of implementation and at five-year intervals thereafter. The data from the monitoring program, and the methodology used to produce it, will be made public on an ongoing basis.
Suncor strongly supports the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program and looks forward to working with governments, industry peers and other stakeholders to ensure the new monitoring system is implemented effectively and efficiently as we pursue the shared goal of minimizing the impact of oil sands development on the Athabasca watershed.
Read more about the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program