Alberta,
27
March
2017
|
17:00
America/Denver

Don’t Poke the Bear

The nature of environmental management at the AER

Summary
  • AER biologists ensure Alberta’s entire biodiversity is considered in energy development.
  • This work includes advising AER decision-makers on project applications.
  • Our biologists also ensure industry have plans to minimize potential impacts to fish and wildlife from incidents.

No one likes to be stirred from a good nap, particularly if you’ve been asleep for several months.

A rare sighting of two lynx in northern Alberta during a routine field trip by Patrick Traudt of the Bonnyville Field Centre.

So when an oil and gas company came across a bear den during construction of its pipeline, Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) biologists recommended that they delay the project until the bear’s hibernation was over.

“Our typical approach towards AER’s environmental management comes from a holistic perspective. Although wildlife and fisheries management is important, we ensure that the entire biodiversity of the land is considered,” says Agnes Wajda-Plytta, wildlife biologist with the AER.

To the delight of the biologists, the company adapted its project schedule and is set to start construction in the spring. In the meantime, the bear will continue to enjoy a restful sleep and come out of hibernation naturally.

Plan to Succeed

The AER’s environmental management has evolved since its inception in 2013. The organization employs many environmental professionals, among them five biologists. These three wildlife and two fisheries experts are tasked specifically with managing fisheries, wildlife, and biodiversity.

Most of the biologists’ time is spent reviewing project applications, providing advice to industry to guide them through the AER’s processes, and consulting with AER staff on various initiatives. They ensure that adequate and appropriate information is available for decisions about environmental regulations.

“It’s imperative to factor in the environmental impacts of a project from a life-cycle approach, which is why the environmental impact assessments are an integral part of our process,” adds Wajda-Plytta.

 

For the Birds

AER biologists work with industry and others to craft environmental management best practices and develop new processes and technologies.

One such example is the Oil Sands Bird Technical Team, which tries to better protect birds from tailings ponds and other affected bodies of water by developing protocols.

This team is also developing a plan for future research into the effectiveness of bird deterrents.They want to understand how bird behaviour and habitat influence the risk of contacting the affected water, and the effects the water has on bird health. This will help determine how to use the deterrents.

Another important aspect of environmental management is mitigation and monitoring planning.

When environmental impact assessments raise issues, it is critical that companies have mitigation and monitoring plans to address the issues to help minimize the potential impacts. These plans must be ongoing and adaptive to ensure that the necessary controls are in place. AER biologists play a significant role in this by asking questions about the risks to ensure that companies have considered all potential outcomes.

In the Wild

Like most of us, the biologists enjoy being in the great outdoors to get up close and personal with Mother Nature. Opportunities to get out may include project-specific site tours, inspection tours, and when incidents occur.

“Getting out to the field provides a lot of context and gives us a better understanding of the conditions. Seeing sites first-hand improves our ability to conduct reviews, and to provide the best information to the company and to AER’s inspectors,” says Marie Nietfeld, wildlife biologist with the AER.

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photo:Kate Bowering
Kate Bowering
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Photo Credits

Bear: NFKenyon Photography
Lynx: Patrick Traudt, AER Bonnyville Field Centre

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