Oil and gas companies, along with other industries, have a new world-class tool to help them monitor – and mitigate – the effect their operations are having on the environment.
ABMI is monitoring changes to about
2,000 species in Alberta
The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) is the biggest and best program of its kind in the world, says Jim Schieck of the Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures. It is a completely objective, scientifically rigorous method to evaluate changes to about 2,000 species of biota (wildlife, plants and smaller critters) across the province.
The ABMI was developed in collaboration with dozens of scientists, Alberta’s universities, many industries, the province, the Royal Museum of Alberta, the Alberta Conservation Society and the Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures.
“It took a number of years, but when we were done, we had a program that was really quite comprehensive and definitely leading in the world,” says Schieck.
The ABMI has 1656 permanent survey sites located every 20 km throughout the province. At full operations, 330 of the survey sites are monitored every year with on-site visits, aerial photography, and satellite imagery. The entire province will be reviewed for changes in relevant species and habitats on a regular basis.
“As a society, we set environmental goals for what we wish to achieve in a region, and then we use information from the ABMI to evaluate the degree to which we have met those goals,” says Schieck. “Before now, we simply didn’t have the ability to evaluate the status of the environment at a regional scale and how things were changing over time.”
During 2003 to 2006 information was collected from 150 sites. Between 2007 and 2011, nearly 500 more sites were monitored for everything from birds to plants to dead trees. All the raw data is made available to the public, but the ABMI has also developed an innovative system to present the data in a way that different industries, planners, recreational users, and others can use.
“The ABMI provides a lot of information that can be used to assess what is expected in an area after reclamation and the mathematical tools to help companies evaluate the success of the reclamation,” says Schieck.
Dave Pryce, Vice President Operations with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, who sits on the ABMI Board of Directors, notes that “ABMI provides a credible platform using sound science to collect and report on the status of species in Alberta. Data that can be used by government to inform policy, and as a source of information for industry, stakeholders and the general public.
“We were plowing new ground when we were developing the program,” says Schieck. Switzerland, the European Community, and Australia are all working toward developing a similar monitoring system.
“We have moved faster than most other countries in the world. We are further ahead in that we actually have a program that we’re rolling out right now,” he says.
A preliminary ABMI report released in early 2009 states that based on the measurement of 52 bird and 97 plant species, the Lower Athabasca’s living resources are 94 per cent intact.