In today’s Alberta, protecting the environment goes hand-in-hand with energy development, and the province’s energy regulator plays the lead role in ensuring that this happens.
One way we can do this is to look at the big picture by adopting a cumulative-effects-management approach. But what are cumulative effects?
This question can have different answers depending on who you talk to. But to the AER, cumulative effects are the total environmental changes caused by energy development activities in combination with other past, present, and future human actions. The impacts of each activity may be insignificant by themselves, but when they’re combined with the impacts from other activities—such as forestry or recreational activities—the risk to the environment can be great.
“The regulatory system that we have in place today was designed during a different period of energy development and tends to look more at each development activity in isolation, rather than looking at all of the activities occurring in the area and their impacts on water, land, biodiversity, and air quality,” said Monique Dubé, the AER’s chief environmental scientist.
“However, with the amount of energy development now occurring across the province, we need to shift our thinking and adopt a cumulative-effects-management approach to ensure that when we’re making decisions on energy development, we’re looking at the bigger picture, seeing the context of all activities that impact the environment.”
Making this happen is no easy feat and will take some time to get right. The AER will need to work closely with other government agencies that are responsible for setting policy and for environmental protection. It also requires proper planning and testing of different approaches. That’s why, over the next year, we’re undertaking a number of initiatives—outlined in the accompanying graphic—to start building a cumulative-effects-management approach.