TrueNorth Energy to fund wetlands study in northeastern AlbertaTrueNorth Energy has pledged to provide up to $1 million in support of a five-year University of Alberta research project focusing on wetland ecosystems in northeastern Alberta.
The Northeastern Alberta Wetland Research Initiative will compare wetlands in northeastern Alberta with those in other areas of the province and will examine the role that climate, geology and landscape position play in shaping the wetlands. The study will evaluate the impacts of industrial land disturbances on the watershed, chemistry and ecology of these features, and will also measure the behaviour of wetlands as a greenhouse-gas-absorbing "carbon sink."
The work will build on previous research studies TrueNorth has funded as part of the planning for its proposed Fort Hills oil sands project, about 90 km north of Fort McMurray. Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac) and Ducks Unlimited will provide input to the study as well.
The research will be led by Kevin Devito, associate professor of biological sciences at U of A, and conducted by Linda Halsey, a wetlands expert at the university. "This project will provide a rich body of scientific information from which to form responsible management guidelines and protocols related to natural resource use and conservation," says Devito.
TrueNorth is supporting the study because the Fort Hills Oil Sands Project will affect a portion of the wetlands on the company's lease, says company president and CEO David Park.
"Industrial development can cause some direct and indirect disruption to wetlands, and we take great care to ensure that these effects are minimized," says Park. "This research will help us better understand the natural cycle of the wetland ecosystems in northeastern Alberta. Our goal is to use the information to reduce the long-term ecological footprint of oil sands development."
The study area will include both the wetlands affected by proposed mining on TrueNorth's oil sands leases and the nearby Thickwood Hills wetland complex, which is free of industrial influences. The Thickwood Hills wetland complex has been granted a protective notation by the Alberta government to ensure the long-term integrity of the U of A research plots to be established in the complex.
The research initiative will begin with a "reconnaissance survey" which will help place the two wetlands to be studied into the broader context of similar landforms within northeastern Alberta. About 16% of Alberta's area, about 106 million hectares, including about 30% of Alberta's boreal forest region is covered by wetlands.
A secondary goal of the study will be to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on the role natural ecosystems can play in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. "This is a small but important aspect of the research as we look for ways to address the risk of climate change," says TrueNorth's Park.
More information is available from Ron Shewchuk of TrueNorth Energy, 403/514-7047, or Kevin Devito at the University of Alberta, 780/492-9387.