From: Mary Richardson [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, January 27, 2012 2:30 PM
To: AENV Environmental Assessment
Subject: Keepers of the Athabasca Response to Blackrod Commercial SAGD Project Proposed ToR
Dear Sir or Madam,
Please find attached the Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Council's review of the Proposed Terms of
Reference for BlackPearl Resources Inc.'s Blackrod Commercial SAGD Project.
I would appreciate acknowledge of your receipt of this message.
Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Council
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January 27, 2012
Director, Environmental Assessment, Regional Integration
Alberta Environment and Water
111 Twin Atria Bldg.
Re: Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Council Review of BlackPearl Resources Inc., Blackrod
Commercial SAGD Project, Proposed Terms of Reference for Environmental Impact Assessment (File
Dear Sir or Madam,
The Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Council has several concerns with BlackPearl Resources Inc’s
proposed terms of reference (ToR) for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of its Blackrod
Commercial SAGD Project (the Project). In this letter, we provide our critique of the ToR and our
request that it be revised and expanded in the ways we describe. We believe that several important
points are missing, and others are not stated with enough specificity to ensure that they are dealt with
in sufficient detail. In keeping with the "Guide to Providing Comments on Proposed Terms of
Reference," we key our suggestions to the sections of the ToR and provide justifications and wording for
each point. New wording is italicized.
One of our main concerns with the ToR is that little attention is paid to cumulative environmental
impacts of the Project together with other activities in the region. Cumulative effects refer to the overall
impact of accumulated changes to a particular place over time (i.e. past, present, and future).
Cumulative effects can be considered in terms of impacts to the environment, the economy, and
society. The Province of Alberta is committed to applying a cumulative effects approach in the
management of its land and resources. 1
Another concern is that the ToR does not address in detail the kinds of impacts that could continue
underground long after the closure of the Project, such as groundwater movement of toxins that
eventually reach the Athabasca River through channels that were created in the process of bitumen
extraction or slow drying of wetlands due to changes in flow rate and direction of aquifers.
The Keepers of the Athabasca are First Nations, Metis, Inuit, environmental groups, and Watershed
citizens working together for the protection of water, land and air, and thus for all living things today
and tomorrow in the Athabasca River Watershed. Our mission is to unite the peoples of the Athabasca
Government of Alberta - Environment. 1995-2011. Cumulative Effects. Accessed 25 May 2011 from
River and Lake Watershed to secure and protect water and watershed lands for ecological, social,
cultural and community health and well being.
We request the following changes to the ToR:
Section 1 [A] ‐ Public Engagement and Aboriginal Consultation
Rationale: In order to express concerns and issues with a project, the public must be informed
of the project and be invited to express its concerns. The EIA should contain information about
how the Proponent informed the public of its project and solicited input.
Wording: Describe how the public was informed of the Project and how public input, concerns
and issues were solicited. Describe the concerns and issues expressed by the public and the
actions taken to address these concerns and issues, including how public input was incorporated
into the Project development, impact mitigation and monitoring.
Section 2.1 [E] ‐ Overview
Rationale: The adaptive management approach to a Project should be related to the cumulative
impacts of all industrial projects in the region.
Wording: Provide the adaptive management approach that will be implemented throughout
the life of the Project. Include how cumulative impacts of all projects in the region, monitoring
and evaluation were incorporated.
Section 2.2 [A] f) and [C] ‐ Constraints
Rationale: Due to lack of adequate monitoring and gathering of baseline information over the
decades of oil sands development, the existing cumulative effects are not known. This has been
pointed out by the Federal Oilsands Advisory Panel, the Royal Society of Canada Experts Panel
and the Water Monitoring Data Review Committee. 2 As a result the province, has committed
to a new monitoring system which has not yet been established, and it will take time to gather
sufficient data to understand the existing cumulative effects. Thus, while Blackrod is expected
to discuss the process and criteria used to identify constraints to development, including
cumulative environmental impacts in the region and how the Project has been designed to
accommodate those constraints, that is not currently possible.
Also, from a public interest perspective, it is important to know why decisions concerning the
location of some facilities have not yet been made, such that they cannot be reviewed as part of
2 Oilsands Advisory Panel. 2010. A Foundation for the Future: Building an Environmental Monitoring System for
the Oil Sands http://www.ec.gc.ca/pollution/default.asp?lang=En&n=E9ABC93B-1; The Royal Society of Canada
Expert Panel. 2010. Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry.
http://www.rsc.ca/documents/RSCreportcompletesecured9Mb_Mar28_11.pdf; The Water Monitoring Data Review
Committee. 2011. Evaluation of Four Reports on Contamination of the Athabasca River System by Oil Sands
the EIA process. It is likewise important to know what types of review processes or licensing are
required for the construction of facilities whose locations have not yet been determined.
[A] f) cumulative environmental impacts in the region, including gaps in information required to
determine those impacts.
[C] Provide a list of facilities for which locations will be determined later, a rationale for the
current lack of determination and a description of the review processes or licensing requirements
for the construction and operation of those facilities.
Section 2.5 [A] f) ‐ Air Emissions Management
Rationale: There are other substances of concern besides Criteria Air Contaminants that may be
emitted to air in plant operations under normal, upset or emergency conditions. These
substances, including, but not limited to, heavy metals and arsenic, are known to be harmful to
both the environment and human health.
Wording: amount and nature of Criteria Air Contaminants, heavy metals (speciated), arsenic
(speciated) and other substances of concern emissions
Section 2.6.1 [A] a), b), c), e), f) and g) ‐ Water Supply
Rationale: The Blackrod Project Summary Table 3 indicates that the only water that will be used
in the SAGD process is saline water from the Grosmont Formation. Despite the fact that use of
this water does not require a Water Act license or Water Act approval, this water should be
accounted for in water balances and listed in process water requirements. All water treatment
systems and chemicals, and their amounts, should be listed and described.
Also, the exact location of sources/intakes should be specified so that their impacts can be
Finally, there has been a case in which saline water was proposed to be used in a SAGD
operation, but later an application to use surface water was made, and the company stated,
“desalinization of local groundwater as a source of process water … is now not preferred due to
technical problems, elevated costs associated with saline groundwater use, and the need for
greater waste management. 4 It is crucial that Blackpearl Resources Inc. present a back‐up plan
in its EIA in case it decides that the use of saline water is no longer preferred, and an application
for the use of other water sources is to be made.
BlackPearl Resources Inc, “Blackrod Commercial SAGD Project, Project Summary Table.” Undated.
Julia Ko and William Donahue. Drilling Down: Groundwater Risks Imposed by In Situ Oil Sands Development,
Water Matters Society of Alberta, July, 2010, citing Nexen Inc, “Long Lake Source Water Project: Application to
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, and Alberta Environment” (Calgary, AB: Nexen, 2010), Application
Numbers 001‐00267465 and 001‐00267466466.
a) the expected water balance, including saline groundwater, during all stages of the Project. …
b) … Identify the volume of water to be withdrawn from each source, including saline
groundwater, considering plans for wastewater reuse. Provide a back‐up plan in case saline
groundwater is determined not to be the preferred source of process water
c) the exact location of sources/intakes and associated infrastructure (e.g., pipelines for water
e) the expected cumulative effects of water losses/gains, including of saline groundwater,
resulting from the Project’s operations. Include calculations.
f) potable water and process water treatment systems for all stages of the project
g) type and quantity of potable water and process water treatment chemicals used
Section 3.1.2 [A] c), d) and e) – Air Quality, Climate and Noise – Impact Assessment
Rationale: The cumulative effects of air emissions of all regional industrial projects should be
taken into account when determining components of the Project that will affect air quality.
Deposition of all substances of concern should be listed.
[A] c) taking into consideration cumulative impacts of the Project and all other regional industrial
projects, discuss any expected changes to patterns of particulate deposition, nitrogen
deposition, acidic deposition or deposition of any other substances of concern
[A] d) taking into consideration cumulative impacts of the Project and all other regional
industrial projects, identify areas that are predicted to exceed Potential Acid Input (PAI) critical
[A] e) taking into consideration the cumulative impacts of the Project and all other regional
industrial projects, discuss interactive effects that may occur resulting from co‐exposure of a
receptor to all emissions
Section 3.2.1 [A], [A] a), [A] b) i), [A] b) ii) and [A] b) iv) ‐ Hydrogeology ‐ Baseline Information
Rationale: The overview should be broad enough to determine whether there is a potential for
steam‐heated bitumen and/or other mobilized materials to flow between aquifers or to the
surface. Also, the foundations of oil producing zones should be studied in order to determine
whether steam‐heated bitumen and/or other mobilized materials have the potential to flow to
deeper levels below the surface.
Also, there should be studies of regional and Project area geology that determine whether the
formations through which drilling will occur contain substances of concern such as arsenic.
The baseline information on aquifers should be based on available information and new
information collected through the installation of monitoring and test wells on the Project site.
Raw data from these wells should be provided in the EIA. The description of the aquifer should
include historical trends.
The description of groundwater chemistry should include other substances of concern beyond
major ions, metals and hydrocarbon indicators
[A] Provide an overview of the existing geologic and hydrogeologic setting from the ground
surface down to, and including, the oil producing zones and their foundations, and disposal
[A] a) present regional and Project Area geology to illustrate depth, thickness and spatial extent
of lithology, stratigraphic units and structural features. Indicate whether formations through
which drilling will occur contain substances of concern such as arsenic.
[A] b) i) … Supply raw data from monitoring and test wells on the Project site. The description of
the aquifer should include historical trends.
[A] b) ii) the chemistry of groundwater aquifers including baseline concentrations of major ions,
metals, hydrocarbon indicators and other substances of concern
[A] b) iv) water well development and groundwater use, including saline water, and including an
inventory of groundwater users
Section 3.2.2 [A] [B] and [B] c) ‐ Hydrogeology – Impact Assessment
Discussions of impacts should include impacts of upset, emergency and worst‐case conditions.
Also, since impacts on hydrogeology may continue long past the lifetime of the Project, the EIA
should address impacts in a time scale that reaches several decades beyond the closure of the
Impacts on hydrogeology should include both those of the project itself and cumulative effects
of all industrial projects in the region. The study of the cumulative impacts should describe both
short term and long term effects.
Also, impacts on water quality should include modifications to groundwater geochemistry in the
impacted aquifers due to the proposed operations, including a discussion of potential changes in
metal species and species of other substances of concern.
[A]Describe project components and activities, including under upset, emergency and worst‐case
conditions, that have the potential to affect groundwater resource quantity and quality at all
stages of the Project and for several decades post‐closure.
[B] Describe the nature and significance of the potential Project impacts and cumulative impacts
of all industrial projects in the region on groundwater with respect to:
[B] c) changes in groundwater quality, including modifications to groundwater chemistry, i.e.
concentrations of major ions, metals, hydrocarbon indicators and other substances of concern
and changes in species of metals and other substances of concern and quantity
Section 3.4 [A] ‐ Surface Water Quality
Rationale: The EIA should examine not only the effects of the Project on surface water, but
also the cumulative effects of all industrial projects in the region on surface water.
Also, because groundwater may interact with surface water, and because there could be
upset, emergency or worst-case events or conditions associated with the Project, the
impacts of groundwater extraction and upset, emergency or worst-case events on surface
water quality should be discussed.
Wording: Describe the potential impacts of the Project and the cumulative impacts of all
industrial projects in the region on surface water quality, including changes caused by
groundwater withdrawals and/or upset, emergency or worst-case events, and proposed
mitigation measures to maintain surface water quality at all stages of the Project.
Section 3.5.1 [A] ‐ Aquatic Ecology ‐ Baseline Information
Rationale: As stated above, a main concern with the Project is its addition to the cumulative
environmental impacts in the region. Baseline information about fish habitat and aquatic
resources in the region as well as in the Project site should be part of the EIA.
Wording: Describe and map the fish, fish habitat and aquatic resources (e.g., aquatic and
benthic invertebrates) of the lakes, rivers, ephemeral water bodies and other waters in the
Project site and in the region. …
Section 3.5.2 [A] ‐ Aquatic Ecology ‐ Impact Assessment
(same Rationale as for Section 3.5.1 [A], above)
Wording: Describe and assess the potential impacts of the Project and the cumulative
impacts of all industrial projects in the region to fish, fish habitat, and other aquatic
Section 3.7.1 [A], [B] ‐ Wildlife ‐ Baseline Information
[A] Rationale: Habitat fragmentation is already an important issue for wildlife in the oil sands
area. The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) reported that 7% of the landscape in
the Lower Athabasca region has already been altered as a result of human development. 5 This
number is anticipated to grow as the vast in situ reserves are developed. In total, Alberta’s oil
sands resources covers 140,200‐km². 6
While mining projects cause more localized damage, when taken together in situ techniques will
lead to greater habitat fragmentation over time due to the extensive area they cover (80% of
the total resource) 7 .
There are serious and ongoing declines in woodland caribou herds in the oil sands area.
Woodland caribou are a species at risk listed nationally and in Alberta. 8 They are threatened
and likely to become in danger of extinction if limiting factors are not reversed. Research
indicates that without management intervention these herds will be locally extinct within 20‐40
Tasked with developing an Athabasca Landscape Management Options Report [Management
Options Report] for boreal caribou ranges in northeast Alberta [the Athabasca Landscape area]
the Athabasca Landscape Team [ALT], established in June 2008 by the Alberta Caribou
Committee Governance Board [ACCGB], presented management options to recover and sustain
boreal caribou in all populations in the Athabasca Landscape area, consistent with the provincial
woodland caribou Recovery Plan (2004/05‐2013‐14). 10
The Management Planning Report developed planning areas that add a 20 km buffer to caribou
ranges that reflect the influence of adjacent habitats and populations of predators and other
prey on caribou population dynamics. According to the landscape planning map for the East
Side Athabasca Range, the Blackrod project area lies between the ranges of two caribou herds,
and may lie within the buffer zones of one or both ranges. 11
Also, with respect to cumulative effects, the Management Options Report expands on the
severity of the situation and its link to broader land use planning. The ALT determined that
there is insufficient functional habitat to maintain and increase current caribou distribution and
population growth rates within the Athabasca Landscape area. Boreal caribou will not persist
Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2009. The Status of Birds and Vascular Plan in Alberta’s Lower
Athabasca Planning Region 2009 – Preliminary Assessment. 2009.
Government of Alberta. 2011. Investing in our Future: Responding to the Rapid Growth of Oil Sands
Development – Final Report.
Schneider, R., S. Dyer. 2006. Death by a Thousand Cuts Impacts of In Situ Oil Sands Development on Alberta’s
Boreal Forest. CPAWS NAB and Pembina Institute.
Athabasca Landscape Team. 2009. Athabasca Caribou Landscape Management Options Report.
Athabasca Landscape Team. 2009. Athabasca Caribou Landscape Management Options Report.
for more than two to four decades without immediate and aggressive management
intervention. 12 They state:
Tough choices need to be made between caribou conservation and industrial
development of oil reserves. It is clear that the history of planning and mitigation of
activities at local project scales has not worked to protect caribou. The cumulative
effects of many individual projects have led to total industrial activity exceeding the
levels that can support viable caribou herds in the TT [Traditional Territory] and
surrounding area. Restoration, protection, and caribou mortality management need to
be part of a broad land use planning framework that recognizes the trade‐off between
caribou conservation and industrial development. 13
[A] Describe and map the wildlife resources (amphibians, reptiles, birds and terrestrial and
aquatic mammals), including those caribou herds with ranges for which the project will occupy
20 km buffer zones around habitat areas, and their use and potential use of habitats. …
[B] Describe and map existing wildlife habitat, including a 20 km buffer around caribou ranges,
and habitat disturbance (including exploration activities) on the Project site as well as cumulative
habitat disturbance by industrial projects in the region. …
Section 3.7.2 [A], [B] Wildlife ‐ Impact Assessment
(same Rationale as for 3.7.1 [A] and [B], above)
[A] Describe and assess the potential impacts of the Project and the potential cumulative effects
of regional industrial projects to wildlife and wildlife habitats, including a 20 km buffer around
caribou ranges, considering:
[B] Discuss mitigation measures to minimize the potential impact of the Project, taking into
consideration cumulative effects of all industrial projects in the region, to wildlife and wildlife
Section 5 [A] a), [A] c) i) and [B] ‐ Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Land Use
Rationale: An important aspect of Traditional Ecological Knowledge is knowledge of patterns
and shifts over time in location and abundance of vegetation, fish and wildlife species for food,
traditional, medicinal and cultural purposes as well as location, quantity and quality of water
sources. This knowledge is important for predicting cumulative effects of all projects in the
traditional land use area on fish, wildlife, vegetation and water.
Also, the EIA should consider cumulative impacts on aboriginal land use.
[A] a) Provide a map and description of traditional land use areas including fishing, hunting,
trapping; nutritional, medicinal or cultural plant harvesting; and water sources (if the aboriginal
community or group is willing to have these locations disclosed); include a description of
reported changes over time in the location and abundance of vegetation, fish and wildlife species
for food, traditional, medicinal and cultural purposes and changes over time in the quantity,
quality and location of water sources in the identified traditional land use areas.
[A] c) i) Wording: the availability of vegetation, fish and wildlife species for food, traditional,
medicinal and cultural purposes in the identified traditional land use areas considering all
Project related impacts and cumulative impacts of all industrial projects in the traditional lands.
[B] Wording: Determine the impact of the Project and cumulative impacts of all industrial
developments on traditional, medicinal and cultural purposes, including water use.
Section 6.2 [A] a) Public Safety
Rationale: Spill containment is not the only type of public safety concern for which there
should be emergency reporting and response procedures. The Proponent should list potential
emergency situations, including spills, blow‐outs, etc., and key them to its emergency response
Wording: List emergency situations that could arise during the operation of the Project, and
describe the Proponent’s emergency response plan, keyed to each type of potential emergency,
including public notification protocol and safety procedures to minimize environmental effects,
including emergency reporting procedures for the containment and management of spills and
other emergency situations.
Section 7.2 [B] g) (new item)
Rationale: Project hiring may reduce the number of local workers available for other
occupations, and the level of project wages may make it difficult for other local businesses and
organizations to compete for workers. The effect could be a lowering of the quality of life in the
local region, if few workers are available to provide services.
Wording: g) Describe the effect of project hiring on the local labour pool and the effect of project
wages on the ability of local businesses and organizations to compete for workers.
Please contact Dr. Richardson (contact information below) if you require further information.
Mr. Roland Woodward, Fort McMurray First Nation
Chair, Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Council
Box 5041, Ft. McMurray, AB
Dr. Mary Richardson
Research Director, Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Council