That’s the assessment by an industry representative of the Clean Air Strategic Alliance (CASA).
Recommendations in the report, Clean Air Strategy for Alberta, that might affect the oil and gas industry are for: the promotion of new technologies, more focus on prevention versus control, and more accessible and transparent information on air quality from industry as a whole, says Al Mok, director of environment, health, and safety at Suncor Energy Inc. and CASA’s industry co-chair.
“Right now, we’re mostly on the control side,” says Mok, who also represented the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers on the team. “If we can eliminate the production of some pollutants, then we don’t have to worry about the control. So that’s the philosophical direction that we’re heading.”
There has been a fair bit of discussion on focusing less on industry—the “point source” of emissions—and more on end usage, he says.
“This recommendation says we should also look at the non-point sources such as transportation [and] maybe unregulated emissions such as feedlots and that sort of thing, which have a huge impact on air quality as well. So if anything, we’re not diverting but [are] more inclusive of emissions, not just from the oil and gas industry.”
CASA defines a point source as a stationary location or fixed facility from which substances are discharged; for example a smokestack. It defines a non-point source as a pollution source that is not recognized to have a single point of origin. Common non-point sources are agriculture, forestry, urban, mining, construction, and city streets.
Alberta has achieved considerable success in understanding air quality and managing emissions since the recommendations in the 1991 Clean Air Strategy were implemented, according to CASA. These successes include substantial reductions in industrial emissions such as reductions in solution-gas flaring and venting, and management plans to address issues related to particulate matter and ozone in the province’s most populated areas.
Nevertheless, there are significant and growing pressures on Alberta’s air, and a new Clean Air Strategy is needed, it says, because:
1. Continuing industrial and population growth could compromise the gains made since 1991. The increased pace of development in the oilsands, ongoing development of Alberta’s conventional energy reserves, an influx of people to the province, and strong urban growth all have the potential to affect air quality, in some areas more than others. Development in the energy sector has spurred substantial growth in related industrial activities, as well as a significant increase in infrastructure requirements. All of these activities are sources of air emissions.
2. Some aspects of air quality management need renewed attention, such as preventing and controlling emissions from non-regulated and non-point sources—so-called “area” sources, such as residential and commercial heating, transportation, and agriculture. Emissions from these sources have increased since 1991. While area sources were recognized in the original Clean Air Strategy, responses to this complex issue are still needed; to succeed, adjustments to the current governance model will likely be required.
3. Public interest in health issues remains high, and air quality continues to be a health concern in some regions. Considerable work is underway to gain a better understanding of cumulative effects and the need for limits to protect human, animal, and ecosystem health.
4. In the last few years, the government of Alberta has made a number of commitments that have implications for how air quality is managed. These include a desire to improve the integration of decision making to ensure alignment and consistency across government departments and agencies; an interest in shared governance and shared responsibility; and the creation of several new provincial resource management strategies, at least some of which will influence air quality management. (Examples are the Provincial Energy Strategy, Climate Change Strategy, Land-use Framework, and Water for Life.)