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Kearl Lake

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Wood Buffal AB

"Traditional land use." Kearl Oil Sands Project mine development

Year: 2005

The objective of this section of the Kearl Lake Project Environmental Impact Assessment was to record concerns about how development has affected, and how the Kearl project specifically will further affect, the land, air, water, and traditional lifestyles of Fort McKay First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and Mikisew Cree First Nation. The assessment hoped "to capture the complex relationship between community well-being, cultural identity and the land, as perceived by three Aboriginal communities affected by development in the oil sands region." Each community was invited to identify participants for discussion sessions. Fort McKay First Nation was represented by ten Elders and one trapline holder family at meetings; Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation was represented by 35 members at an initial meeting, and 12 Elders and one trapline holder at subsequent meetings; and Mikisew Cree First Nation was represented by 53 Elders at an initial meeting, and 42 Elders at subsequent meetings. A literature review, including previous traditional land use studies, was also conducted. The report is separated by community. Each community section documents the observations and concerns of community members about the project on traditional land use, as well as suggestions for mitigation, monitoring, and follow-up. Community sections are organized around the following broad themes: development issues, such as the Aboriginal consultation process, land access management, and reclamation; landscape-level effects, such as landscape integrity, power of place, and respect for animals; ecosystem health, such as medicinal plants, water resources, and various types of pollution; and human health and community well-being, such as employment, education, and physical, psychological, and spiritual health. Details within each broad theme differ for each community. Where consent was provided, the location of traditional land use sites, features, and areas of importance are also enumerated and mapped for each Nation. Each community section also includes a summarized table of project-related issues and concerns, as well as Imperial Oil's responses to those concerns.

Between the sands and a hard place?: Aboriginal peoples and the oil sands

Author(s): Urquhart, I.

Year: 2010

Canada's aboriginal peoples are one of the constituencies most affected by the oil sands boom that has swept across northeastern North Alberta in western Canada since the mid-1990s. This paper considers reaction of these First Nations to exploring the oil sands. It argues that the conventional view of First Nations' positions is a caricature which pays insignificant attention to the important economic relationships that have developed between oil sands companies and some First Nations. These relationships mean that First Nations are both critics and supporters of exploiting this resources.

Food habits of mink (Mustela vison) and otter (Lutra canadensis) in northeastern Alberta

Author(s): Gilbert, F. F.

Year: 1982

Scats of mink (Mustela vison) and otter (Lutra cawdensis) in northeastern Alberta contained different food items in different habitat types according to type of water body. Brook stickleback (Culaea inconstans) was the most frequently encountered food item in scats of both species from a drainage system dominated by lakes and for otter from a second drainage system dominated by streams. However, mink had varying hare (Lepusamericanus) as their primary food item by frequency of occurrencein this latter situation and mammalian items were significantly ( P < 0.01) more frequent. Otter scats contained more fish and invertebrates ( P < 0.01) and fewer mammals ( P < 0.01) and birds ( P < 0.05) than mink scats. Both otters and mink appeared to exploit avian species to a greater degree ( P < 0.01) in the lake-dominated drainage. The frequency of avain remains in otter scats was very high and probably reflected high utilization of breeding and moulting waterfowl.

Oil sands terrestrial habitat and risk modeling for disturbance and reclamation - Phase I report

Author(s): Welham, C.

Year: 2010

The overall objective of this project is to develop a framework that integrates risk management and strategic decision-making to evaluate the impact of disturbance (natural and industrial) on ecosystem products and services, and on habitat availability for terrestrial species in Alberta’s Lower Athabasca planning region. This will include an evaluation of the impact of disturbance (natural disturbance due to insect outbreaks, fire and wind, as well as other industrial and agricultural disturbances), conservation, and reclamation activities associated with oil sands development both at the lease and regional levels. The project will be conducted in three phases. Each phase is sequential such that its results and conclusions represent the foundation for the subsequent work. In this way, project investment and outcomes can be realized incrementally. Four scenarios will be incorporated into the overall project. These include scenarios constituting a basecase analysis, climate change, mine development plans, and regional development plans. The basecase scenario is a series of outcomes derived with no consideration for future climate change. The importance of the basecase is that it represents the null condition and thus provides a context for comparing the relative impact of different climate change scenarios (the focus of subsequent project activities). The basecase scenario was the main focus of the work conducted in Phase I, and is comprised of a dendrochronology study of the relationship between climate and tree growth in the sub-boreal region that encompasses oil sands mining, an aspatial analysis of habitat suitability for 10 wildlife species in relation to reclamation activities on the Kearl Lake mine, and a risk analysis of the potential for development of water stress in young reclamation plantations at the Kearl Lake mine. The report begins with an introductory chapter that defines core concepts and project objectives. Dendrochronology The dendrochronology work examined the relationship between climate and tree growth (specifically ring width) for four species (white spruce – Picea glauca, black spruce – Picea mariana, jack pine – Pinus banksiana, and trembling aspen – Populus tremuloides) in the sub-boreal forests of western Canada (Alberta and Saskatchewan). A review of on-line and literature sources was used to identify tree core collections from the region. A total of 29 chronologies were identified that matched a set of suitability criteria: 18 chronologies for white spruce, 8 for jack pine, 2 for black spruce and 1 for trembling aspen. In addition, 9 aspen chronologies were analyzed from cores collected within the region. Each core series was used to date tree rings by year of growth and to create master chronologies of ring width over the previous 75 years (1935 to 2009). Residual chronologies were generated by standardizing and detrending master chronologies to remove non-climate-related influences on growth. These residual chronologies were then correlated to one or more of 25 climate-related variables derived from climate records obtained from nearby weather stations. Results indicate that radial growth of white spruce was limited by current year water stress; significant relationships were found between radial growth and growing season precipitation and summer temperatures. Similar results were found for jack pine, but no conclusive results were found for trembling aspen or black spruce. Subsequent work will be required to (a) add additional data sources, particularly for aspen, and (b) to determine whether additional climate relationships may better explain ring chronologies. The full report is provided in Section 2. Habitat suitability analysis Habitat suitability indices (HSIs) were calculated from equations for 10 boreal forest wildlife species (moose, black bear, snowshoe hare, lynx, red-backed vole, fisher, Cape May warbler, ruffed grouse, pileated woodpecker, and northern goshawk) in natural forests and within reclamation plans developed as part of the Kearl Lake mine. Input values for each index were derived from output generated from the ecosystem simulation model, FORECAST. The development of each index was calculated from the initiation of reclamation through to mine closure as per practices described in the Kearl Lake Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). It should be noted that for some species, the HSI includes parameters with a spatial component, the latter of which requires calculation of one or more landscape metrics. For present purposes, HSIs were calculated for the 10 species without including spatial metrics. In practical terms, these HSIs then represent the most optimistic scenarios for habitat development since the inclusions of spatial metrics only serves to reduce habitat suitability (though in some cases, the HSI may remain unchanged). Specific objectives were as follows: • Review of habitat suitability models that may be applicable to Alberta boreal forests. • Identify variables used in the habitat suitability models that can be simulated with the FORECAST model. • Simulate the reclamation prescriptions described in the Kearl Lake EIA documents with FORECAST and generate output suitable for populating each habitat suitability model. • Generate habitat suitability indices (HSIs) for 10 wildlife species (identified from the review) on the Kearl lake mine site and compare and contrast the temporal development of habitat from reclamation initiation to mine closure. Conclusions were: 1. There is a 37-year window following mine operation when upland habitat suitability is very poor on the mine footprint (an area that encompasses almost 30,000 ha). 2. Habitat suitability recovers relatively quickly thereafter; 50 years after mine operation, 4 out of 10 species have a 100 % suitability index, and this increases to 9 out of 10 species 55 years after mine operation. 3. The overall quality and pattern of recovery in habitat suitability depends on how much upland is reclaimed relative to the original (pre-mining) landscape. 4. Deviations in the post-mining distribution of ecosite phases relative to the pre-mining landscape could have significant implications for the habitat suitability of particular species, either positively (more habitat is created) or negatively. 5. The broad variation among species in their HSI values suggests that reclamation practices could be targeted towards the habitat requirements of one particular wildlife species by preferentially reclaiming more favourable ecosite phases. Conversely, a broad range of ecosite phases is necessary to promote a higher degree of biodiversity on the reclaimed landscape. 6. When habitat recovery rates on reclaimed sites are considered in conjunction with the overall mine footprint, it suggests that the negative impact of the operation is not trivial with respect to habitat loss. The full report is contained in Section 3. A risk analysis of the potential development of water stress in young reclamation plantations The development of ecologically viable reclamation strategies and methodologies in the oil sands region can be a difficult undertaking considering the logistical challenges of constructing soil covers capable of providing both the hydrological and nutritional characteristics required for the establishment of self-sustaining, productive forest ecosystems. To examine the potential for the development of water stress in proposed reclamation plantations within the Kearl Lake mining area, a risk analysis was conducted for different species and ecosite combinations using the stand-level forest hydrology model ForWaDy. The risk analysis was designed to evaluate the probability of high levels of water stress developing in young plantations of white spruce, trembling aspen, and jack pine established on different ecosites as a function of soil texture and slope position. Each species and soil type combination was simulated for a 25-year period using historical climate data from the Fort McMurray weather station. Annual summaries of simulated water stress (expressed as a Transpiration Deficit Index; TDI) during the growing season were used to derive probabilities of exceeding a range of water stress thresholds. Spruce was the species most likely to experience high TDI levels (greater than 0.3). In addition, it was the only species to reach TDI levels greater than 0.6 during the 25-year simulation period. Jack pine, in contrast, was the least likely to experience high TDI levels and did not exceed levels of 0.5 during any year; the remaining species were intermediate between the spruce and pine. The probability of exceeding TDI thresholds was consistently greater in an a-b ecosite grouping (representing dry, nutrient poor sites) relative to a d-e grouping (moist, nutrient-rich sites). Differences between the two ecosite groupings were relatively small, however. The difference would have been greater if not for the 50 cm peat layer that is applied to each site as a rooting substrate, and which alone constitutes 70% to 80% of the water holding capacity of the total soil profile. The probabilities reported here are based on the simulated response of the tree–soil combinations to the past 25 years of climate data (1982 - 2006). These years reflect the current climate but are not likely to be representative of future climate conditions predicted for the region from Global Circulation Models. An exploration of the impact of climate change on water stress and its implications for overall growth and the associated development of structural habitat elements will be conducted in Phase II of the project. The full report is contained in Section 4. The report concludes with a brief description of the next steps in the project.

PAH distributions in sediments in the oil sands monitoring area and western Lake Athabasca: Concentration, composition and diagnostic ratios

Year: 2016

Oil sands activities north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, have intensified in recent years with a concomitant debate as to their environmental impacts. The Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program and its successor, the Joint Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM), are the primary aquatic programs monitoring this industry. Here we examine sediment data (collected by Ekman grabs) to investigate trends and sources of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), supplementing these data with sediment core studies. Total PAH (ΣPAH) concentrations were highest at Shipyard Lake (6038 ± 2679 ng/g) in the development center and lower at Isadore's Lake (1660 ± 777 ng/g) to the north; both lakes are in the Athabasca River Valley and lie below the developments. ΣPAH concentrations were lower (622-930 ng/g) in upland lakes (Kearl, McClelland) located further away from the developments. ΣPAH concentrations increased at Shipyard Lake (2001-2014) and the Ells River mouth (1998-2014) but decreased in nearshore areas at Kearl Lake (2001-2014) and a Muskeg River (2000-2014) site. Over the longer term, ΣPAH concentrations increased in Kearl (1934-2012) and Sharkbite (1928-2010) Lakes. Further (200 km) downstream in the Athabasca River delta, ΣPAH concentrations (1029 ± 671 ng/g) increased (1999-2014) when %sands were included in the regression model; however, 50 km to the east, concentrations declined (1926-2009) in Lake Athabasca. Ten diagnostic ratios based on anthracene, phenanthrene, fluoranthene, pyrene, benz[a]anthracene, chrysene, indeno[123-cd]pyrene, dibenz[a,h]anthracene, dibenzothiophene and retene were examined to infer spatial and temporal trends in PAH sources (e.g., combustion versus petrogenic) and weathering. There was some evidence of increasing contributions of unprocessed oil sands and bitumen dust to Shipyard, Sharkbite, and Isadore's Lakes and increased combustion sources in the Athabasca River delta. Some CCME interim sediment quality guidelines were exceeded, primarily in Shipyard Lake and near presumed natural bitumen sources.

Predicting bird oiling events at oil sands tailings ponds and assessing the importance of alternate waterbodies for waterfowl: A preliminary assessment

Author(s): Ronconi, R. A.

Year: 2006

Tailings ponds are an integral part of oil sands mining development in northeastern Alberta, but waterfowl and shorebirds often land in these ponds during spring migration where they may become covered with oil. For decades, managers have developed and implemented methods for deterring birds from landing in these ponds, yet no deterrent strategy is fully effective. Therefore, to enhance deterrence strategies, it will be important to understand the environmental conditions that influence bird use of tailings ponds. This study quantified waterfowl flights over, and use of, tailings ponds and compared this use to waterfowl activity at natural waterbodies in the region over a single spring migration period. Results suggest that waterfowl are most likely to land on tailings ponds before lakes have thawed, after which migratory ducks appeared mainly to use natural waterbodies for migratory stopover sites. Very high numbers of waterfowl were observed on one waterbody, Kearl Lake, suggesting that this lake may be of greater importance to spring staging waterfowl than previously thought. A small sample of birds oiled at tailings ponds were examined in relation to spring weather conditions. Logistic regression analysis demonstrated that the probability of birds being oiled tended to increase with precipitation levels. Results of this study suggest that (1) preservation of natural waterbodies may play an important role in minimizing bird use of tailings ponds, and (2) future bird deterrence efforts should especially aim to deter birds during rainy weather conditions when birds may be more likely to become oiled. These results were from a small sample size, are preliminary in nature, and should be interpreted with caution. A concerted and careful effort to collect and thoroughly analyze long-term records of oiled birds may reveal important environmental effects predicting bird oiling events.

Traditional land use and traditional ecological knowledge

Year: 2004

The objectives of this study were to "integrate information on historical and current traditional land use in the Sunrise Project area with traditional ecological knowledge preserved within affected Aboriginal communities." The authors of this assessment consulted recent environmental impact assessments, traditional land use studies and traditional plant lists prepared by Fort McKay and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations, interview transcripts from previously completed environmental impact assessments, documentary information provided by the Fort McKay First Nation Industrial Relations Corporation, as well as information gathered at ongoing consultation with Fort McKay, Athabasca Chipewyan, and Mikisew Cree First Nations. Additionally, there were two rounds of interviews in the spring of 2004 with the holders of the four registered traplines that would be affected by the development. The interviews aimed to gather traditional knowledge on land use of the area before oil sands development, in the early stages of development (Syncrude, Great Canadian Oil Sands, now Suncor), and during the current stage of oil sands expansion. Field visits were also conducted. The historical context and a summary of the traditional economy of each Nation, as well as a detailed table on flora and fauna use, are provided. The authors include background information on the four traplines, their holders and families, and detail what the project-specific and cumulative impacts to those traplines would be. Mitigation efforts by Husky are summarized at the end of the document. Expected impacts are reported from consultant's point of view. A short list of Fort McKay First Nation concerns is included.