Earth Observation for Improved Regulatory Decision Making in Alberta – Workshop Report

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Roger DeAbreu
Shane Patterson
Todd Shipman
Chris Powter
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On February 26, 2015, scientists from Natural Resources Canada’s Canada Centre for Remote Sensing presented their research related to the use of Earth observation (EO) technology for more effective regulation of resource development activities in the province of Alberta, with a strong focus on the oil sands region. The workshop was attended by 57 people from the federal government, Government of Alberta, academia, resource industry and the Earth observation service and products industry. This EO research involved various collaborations within and between federal (NRCan, Canadian Space Agency, Environment Canada) and provincial departments/agencies (Alberta Energy Regulator – Alberta Geological Survey, Government of Alberta - Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Government of Alberta - Innovation and Advanced Education) and academia (U. Victoria, U. Lethbridge, U. Calgary). Also included in the workshop were presentations from the Canadian Forest Service related to their current and planned research activities in the region. Presentations were also given that articulated provincial and federal priorities around the responsible development of resources and the larger needs for environmental monitoring and data management in Alberta. Further perspectives on the use of EO within Alberta were also gathered via a pre-workshop survey. The NRCan pilot projects spanned high resolution monitoring of production activities (i.e. land disturbance and in-situ related ground deformation) to regional change monitoring of vegetation, water and freshwater ice. Each clearly demonstrated the potential of EO to support key Alberta environmental initiatives, including: energy industry regulation, environmental monitoring, regional planning, and emergency management. Together, the 2011 and 2015 workshops, survey and pilot projects point to the conclusions and recommendations briefly described below. Each of these is further expanded upon within this report. 1) The pilot science projects have proven that EO can provide relevant and valuable information to inform and enhance monitoring in support of Alberta’s management and regulatory frameworks. An example being AER’s move to Play-Based Regulation. This will require, continued collaboration with scientists to understand the role of EO in the monitoring and regulation of rapidly expanding unconventional oil and gas extraction within Alberta is a priority. 2) Further development of the concept of operations and business case for integration of EO into the management and regulatory frameworks is required before EO can play a formal role in integrated resource management in Alberta. The success of these pilot projects has launched this development within the AER.

3) The transition of these and other techniques into operational management and regulatory frameworks will require further user investment in highly qualified people and/or services. Opportunities exist to leverage support from innovation funds and commercial service providers. 4) Future activities to move EO science and technology further down the value chain and into operational use should be supported by multi-sector teams (govt., commercial, academia) from the beginning to ensure good business focus is being combined with the best science and the road to implementation is understood and ready. 5) Given the significant national and international investment in constellations of EO satellites (e.g. RCM, Sentinels) and the ever increasing availability of open EO data, further investments by stakeholders in moving EO science into Alberta’s management and regulatory should be considered timely, strategic and given priority. 6) The successful implementation and use of EO science and technology in Alberta’s Integrated Resource Management System (IRMS) depends strongly on the existence of a sophisticated spatial data infrastructure (such as GeoDiscover Alberta at the provincial level, and the Federal Geospatial Platform at the federal level) that will enable the smart integration and use of EO information demonstrated in these pilots. A 5-year roadmap, guided largely by the results of the pilot projects and the activities over the last four years, has been developed to identify which regulator business needs could be met by EO information and on what timescale (i.e. <2, 2-3, 4-5 years). Finally, beyond the science, the workshops and pilot projects have resulted in an effective dialog between sectors that must be sustained to ensure the full impact of these activities over the last four years are realized. While there remains much work to do transitioning this research and development into operational workflows, the stage has been set to help ensure EO contributes at its fullest potential to the shared priority of responsible resource development in the oil sands.