Oil and gas mining are big business in resource-rich Alberta, due largely to the province’s Athabasca Oil Sands. Nathan Lemphers, (MCP ’09) looked at the region’s three major mining companies and found surprising variation in their environmental records. Each company had its own strengths and weaknesses in stakeholder involvement, environmental protection, and operational transparency, revealing a lack of uniformity that Nathan credits to lax environmental regulation by the provincial government.
Environmental regulation in Alberta has had a shaky and inconsistent history, and oil-mining companies today have poor guidance from regulators, lax monitoring, and inadequate enforcement penalties and incentives. The absence of a strong regulatory framework has granted companies agency in determining their own approaches to environmental protection, but they are not above the influence of external forces. Environmental advocacy groups, First Nations communities, and the international media all put pressure on mining companies to adopt environmental protections, and the resulting variation in corporate responses reflects differences in how these companies have strategically responded to this pressure. Nathan identifies several factors, such as corporate organizational structure and a preference for a good public image, that dictate the priorities that corporations hold in taking environmental action.
As Alberta’s mining industry continues to grow, the provincial government must step in and establish clear guidelines for companies to follow in adhering to environmental regulation. Nathan lays out three areas of focus that must be addressed in order to restore the credibility of Alberta’s environmental regulators. The first is the transparency of data and the methods used to gauge environmental impacts and health. The second is a more robust environmental monitoring program that resolves the flaws in the current process. The third is improved enforcement mechanisms that guarantee that regulations are followed. Read more about Nathan’s conclusions in his thesis.