SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  7 November 2013
Volume 14 Issue 11

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Canadian Oil Sands Sessions at the SETAC North America 34th Annual Meeting

Richard A. Frank, Environment Canada and Jonathan W. Martin, University of Alberta

The Athabasca oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, contains the world’s third largest proven oil reserve, comprised primarily of bitumen. This resource has fueled the rapid expansion of an oil sands industry in northern Alberta, as well as necessitated the development of research programs capable of assessing impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems regionally.

oil sands
Oil sands industrial development near Athabasca River (middle of picture). Tailings pond (center background) and a constructed wetland on a reclaimed tailings pond (top right) also shown.

On Wednesday, 20 November, at the SETAC North America 34th Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., a full-day scientific session in Presidential Room B will be dedicated to showcasing research assessing the environmental impacts associated with the development of the oil sands industry, the progress of reclamation strategies currently in use and under development, and advancements in understanding the toxicity and chemical characterization of highly complex mixtures of oil sands components. Since 2008, oil sands assessment sessions at SETAC North America annual meetings have been very well attended and the number of abstract submissions has steadily increased each year. This year, the sessions will again provide an excellent arena for researchers to present their findings and allow for the advancement of science in this very complex and diverse field.

The Canadian Oil Sands sessions will be an excellent fit with the theme of the 2013 annual meeting, “Harmonizing Science Across Disciplines.” It will include presentations in the fields of chemistry, toxicology and geochemistry, among others.

The morning session from 8:00–11:50 a.m. is titled “Canadian Oil Sands – Part I: Assessing Impacts on the Environment and the Advancement of Oil Sands Reclamation Strategies.”  It will include summaries of recent advancements in reclamation strategies for increasing wetland diversity and treating oil sands process-affected water (OSPW), identifying critical effect sizes for use in regional monitoring programs, assessing air quality and atmospheric deposition of contaminants, and assessing of oil sands-related effects on fish and birds.

oil sands
Steepbank River (tributary of Athabasca River) flowing through natural oil sands deposit (bottom right and center) and proximate to industrial development (background).

The afternoon session runs from 1:55–5:45 p.m. and is titled “Canadian Oil Sands – Part II: Advancements in Ecotoxicology of Process-affected Materials and Analytical Detection.”  This session features presentations on better understanding naphthenic acid (NA) toxicity towards aquatic invertebrates; assessing the toxicity of constituents within OSPW; measuring polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in lichens in the oil sands region; evaluating the impact of oil sands contaminants in water, sediment and snow melt on the health of fish; developing analytical methods measuring NAs in tissues; and identifying chemical profiles for oil sands contaminants originating from natural and industrial sources.

In addition to the full-day of platform sessions, Canadian Oil Sands also features an extensive poster session that summarizes research related to this rapidly expanding field. The breadth of research topics and depth of ongoing research initiatives covered by the 25 Canadian Oil Sands presentations at this year's SETAC North America annual meeting will provide a comprehensive overview of much of the research currently under investigation, and it should be enjoyable for everyone in attendance.

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