A group representing Canada's oil sector is calling on Alberta and the federal government to quickly implement an oil sands environmental monitoring program, saying the energy sector's "social licence" is on the line.
The comments come after a native community near the oil sands, Fort McKay First Nation, dropped out of talks for the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) program, citing a "frustrating and futile process" and a lack of a reply from government officials about its proposed terms of reference. Both governments have since pledged to push to bring the 700-member Fort McKay community back on board.
David Pryce, vice-president of operations for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), said he shares Fort McKay's concerns about delays, 20 months after JOSM was first announced.
"We would certainly support and have been advocating timely movement around the implementation of JOSM as well. So, we'll leave it at that," Mr. Pryce said in an interview.
He said that he hopes Fort McKay will remain a part of talks, but that it's up to government to lead the way. "This is the government's program. We certainly would encourage [that Fort McKay] be part of the process, but we would certainly look for government to lead that and bring them along if they're willing to do that," Mr. Pryce said.
Environmental monitoring is continuing, he said, despite ongoing questions about how the JOSM program will be structured. Mr. Pryce called on government to do more to share news of the work being done.
"I think what we've seen is government very active in the field, doing the work, doing the monitoring. I think it's important they be communicating what they're doing. Not just with Fort McKay but, quite frankly, all stakeholders, including industry, so that we see the stages of implementation. We know they've been very busy, and we're looking for them to be communicative about that," he said.
Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that talks about how to structure JOSM, first announced in February of 2012, stretched into this year, and closely involved CAPP, representing the industry that has pledged to pay up to $50-million a year in monitoring costs.
Mr. Pryce said the talks haven't "hampered the ability to get the [scientific] work done," and that it will take many factors to make the program successful.
"Our social licence is critical to us. [JOSM] is an important element of this. We're investing $50-million and a good part of our social licence, as industry, in JOSM's programs," he said, after earlier saying: "What we need is the credibility of the program. If we look at the success of this, we need it to be science-based, we need it to be involving Fort McKay and all others as we go forward. We need it to be timely, we need it to be transparent. I think all the stakeholders, including Fort McKay, are looking for that."