Northern Saskachewan Lakes at High Risk From Alberta Acid Rain Emissions

Saskatchewan Environmental Society
August 10, 2009 Photo courtesy of Saskatchewan Tourism
New monitoring data on rainfall in northern Saskatchewan and recently published research on the acid sensitivity of northern Saskatchewan soils show the urgent need for federal and provincial action to control Alberta oil sands pollution, the Saskatchewan Environmental Society said today.

“If regulations to control acid pollution from Alberta’s oil sands are not put in place soon, many of Saskatchewan’s northern lakes will be seriously damaged in the decades to come” said Peter Prebble, Director of Energy and Water Policy with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. “There are two important new pieces of evidence pointing to this conclusion” said Prebble. First, precipitation so acidic that it is classified by Environment Canada as “acid rain” is now falling on the La Loche region in northwest Saskatchewan. Second, recent work by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment shows clearly that northern Saskatchewan has the most acid sensitive soils in Canada. This means our lakes and forests in northern Saskatchewan are incredibly vulnerable to Alberta’s growing acid pollution.”

Prebble said the latest provincial government data for precipitation in La Loche shows rainfall and snowfall in that area to have an average pH of 4.96 with many individual readings below that number. Environment Canada considers pH readings below 5.0 to constitute acid rain.

“The majority of the acid precipitation falling on the La Loche region is coming from oil sands plants in neighboring Alberta” said Josef Schmutz, conservation biologist and Saskatchewan Environmental Society Board Member. “Those operations are releasing vast amounts of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere – more than 200,000 tonnes per year. The prevailing winds for much of the year are from west to east with the result that approximately two thirds of these pollutants make their way into Saskatchewan.”

“Southern Saskatchewan soils have sufficient alkalinity to neutralize acid rain. In contrast, boreal forest soils in northern Saskatchewan do not” Schmutz said. He observed that oil sand operations are being constructed closer and closer to the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. “This environmental threat imposed on Saskatchewan by Alberta must be taken very seriously” he said. “Oil sands activity in northeast Alberta is multiplying rapidly and is not being adequately regulated. Unless strict regulation is put in place, acid rain emissions will increase because oil sands production is scheduled to triple over the next 15-20 years.”

The work done for the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) reveals that parts of the La Loche region have already exceeded their critical load for sulphur and nitrogen. Long time SES Board Member Ann Coxworth described this as “troubling news” because “when critical load is exceeded, significant harmful effects to the natural environment begin occurring.”

Coxworth said the time has come for Saskatchewan to insist on a regional cap on sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions. “A regional cap would set a limit on how much pollution can be produced by all the oil sands plants in Alberta, plus any that develop in Saskatchewan. The cap should be set in the context of the new knowledge we now have. If this is not done quickly, many lakes in northern Saskatchewan are at serious risk” Coxworth said. “One need only look at the experience of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes to realize there are great economic and environmental costs associated with acid rain pollution. In Ontario alone, 48,000 lakes have suffered acid rain damage” she said.

“Saskatchewan should also ask the federal government to help regulate Alberta’s oil sands industry” said Coxworth. “Ottawa is free to regulate on matters relating to pollution across provincial boundaries. It’s time for the Government of Canada to step in to protect Saskatchewan.” she concluded.


For further information contact:
Peter Prebble Tel. (306) 665-0085
Ann Coxworth Tel. (306) 665-1915
Joe Schmutz Tel. (306) 966-2410 or 382-8964


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