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Suncor recognizes the importance of preserving the health of the Athabasca River. We are working with governments, industry peers and stakeholders to support strengthened aquatic monitoring programs aimed at understanding and minimizing the impact of oil sands development on the Athabasca watershed.
Water quality monitoring is an integral component of water stewardship, and there are multiple points where we monitor water quality and then use that information to adapt our water use. Water quality monitoring occurs inside our operations, at the points where we return water and in the watershed:
- Monitoring water on our site allows us to understand the drivers for managing risks as well as opportunities to reduce, reuse and return water. It also provides us with information on the need to develop new water technologies.
- Monitoring water where it is returned to the river ensures we meet all stringent quality standards. It also helps identify how effectively our treatment systems operate and areas where we need to make improvements.
- Monitoring in the river is a key step to detecting and understanding changes in the river. This information is used to set water use as well as effluent guidelines for all watershed users.
Taken together, these oil sands water monitoring efforts create an overall water stewardship framework that contributes to preserving the value of water in the watershed.
Ongoing aquatic monitoring
The Athabasca River provides habitat for many fish species and other aquatic organisms, and feeds into Lake Athabasca. It is also a water source for the industry.
To ensure the health of the river is maintained, we analyze our discharges and support ongoing aquatic monitoring of the Athabasca River. In the past, aquatic monitoring was carried out through the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP). That function is now overseen by the Alberta Government under the Oil Sands Monitoring Program.
The Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring
In 2012, the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta launched the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring. The plan was jointly managed by the two governments to strengthen existing environmental monitoring programs for air, water, land and biodiversity in the oil sands region.
The Oil Sands Monitoring Program, now in its 5th year, has resulted in:
- a larger number of sampling sites over a larger area
- a larger number and additional types of parameters being sampled
- a higher frequency of sampling and in some areas improved methodologies for monitoring both air and water
- an integrated, open data management program
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 contaminant
- 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 break-up, 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 data from the monitoring program and the methodology used to produce it will be made public on an ongoing basis. We also continue to support the Oil Sands Monitoring Program in helping to better understand and manage potential cumulative impacts from oil sands operations on the Athabasca watershed.