Evidence of meeting #55 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was data.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Darren Goetze  Executive Director, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, Department of the Environment
John Moffet  Director General, Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, Department of the Environment
Julie Gelfand  Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Geneviève Béchard  Director General, Monitoring and Data Services Directorate, Department of the Environment
Andrew Ferguson  Principal, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

You're kind of getting it out the back door instead of going in the front door.

I'm assuming—correct me if I'm wrong—that you're not monitoring what the company is shooting down the hole; you are only getting the results of what's coming back up through the fissures and the discharge of the water.

Is that correct?

9:35 a.m.

Executive Director, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, Department of the Environment

Darren Goetze

We're looking for evidence of fracking fluid, fracking chemicals, in the surface water.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

It's backdoor stuff as opposed to front door. That's fair. At least I hope it's fair.

I'd be interested in the environment commissioner's views on these matters.

In my view, this is a really emerging issue, and it would be helpful if we got ahead of this rather than being too far behind it.

9:35 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

I'll pass it to Andrew.

In 2012, before I become commissioner, we did do a study on fracking. Andrew and Doreen, one of our directors, both led that study, so they're best positioned to respond.

9:35 a.m.

Principal, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Ferguson

We did a short study on it in response to three environmental petitions that the office had received in the previous few years.

Environment Canada committed to undertaking a review of the national pollutant release inventory to determine whether fracking operations should be compelled to report their releases to the government under this inventory. We understand that more recently the review has been completed and the government has decided not to require fracking operations to report their releases.

There were some built-in exemptions for small operations, which—

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Let me just hear that again: “not...report their releases”. What does that mean? Can you compare that to something else?

If I'm conducting a regular oil and gas operation, and I have a release, do I have to report it?

9:40 a.m.

Principal, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Andrew Ferguson

Some oil and gas operations are exempt from reporting. Others.... I think Environment Canada would be in a better position to respond to that.

Fracking operations have been exempted because, generally, I think, the size of the operations are very small. There has to be some threshold above which reporting is required, and below that threshold it's not required. If your operation has, I think it's 10,000 person years of employment, there's a benchmark below which you don't have to report.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

But in your case—

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I know you're going to be pointed, Mr. McKay, but your time is up. We can maybe pursue that afterwards.

We'll move to Mr. Choquette for five minutes.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

A lot of questions come to mind in this study. We could have easily had four meetings on water management. I think we would have had enough questions for that.

Ms. Gelfand, I would like to ask you about your risk-based approach. You mentioned that the 2010 report contained questions about the fact that the approach was not risk-based. You said that some adjustments had been made in the 2012-13 report.

What actual adjustments have been made to this risk-based approach? What do you think about it? Are you satisfied? Have enough changes been made?

We're talking about risks, but are the observations well situated geographically? Of course, there are risks like climate change, in particular. Could you please tell us a little about how things have developed and whether you think it is satisfactory?

9:40 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

I can't tell you whether it is satisfactory or not because I did not do another audit, which we call a follow-up. What we did in 2010 was make a recommendation that Environment Canada should use a risk-based approach to develop its water management monitoring system. Mr. Goetze just said that they have looked at all of our recommendations. I am pleased to hear that, but I can't say whether or not it is satisfactory. All I can tell you is that we made recommendations and that the department responded to them, which is a very good thing. But, unlike the way things are usually done, I can't give you any assurance.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Do you intend to do an audit in the coming years?

9:40 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

I have a seven-year mandate, and I have just finished my first year. So I have six years left. I do five chapters per year.

There is a whole range of topics that we could look at. When our office did the risk analysis, the quality and quantity of water came to the surface. It's a possibility that we can't confirm at this point.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Right.

Mr. Goetze, what aspect of the environment or what geographic region, as Ms. Gelfand is wondering, is escaping monitoring and should be given more attention in the future?

9:40 a.m.

Executive Director, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, Department of the Environment

Darren Goetze

We don't actually base our assessments of the network design on geographic considerations. What we're looking at are the risks of water quality impairment. As I mentioned, the range of factors that we consider, we consider them from a geospatial consideration. Then as we understand the risks of water quality impairment, that's where we direct our monitoring.

For example, in the Great Lakes we know there are certain risks to water quality that are larger than those in other areas of the country. This extends into some parts of the St. Lawrence, where we work very closely with the Province of Quebec, for example on the St. Lawrence action plan, which has been a multi-year effort that's received investment from both the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada.

We also know, for example, that areas of industrial development can pose risk hazards to water quality. So we are adjusting our monitoring accordingly.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you.

I will come back to the commissioner's report. Page 19 of the fall 2010 report mentions a case study on oil sands development activities. It refers to Wood Buffalo National Park, and it states, “The report recommended expanding the monitoring parameters to include pollutants related to oil sands development”.

Has that been done?

9:45 a.m.

Executive Director, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, Department of the Environment

Darren Goetze

The joint oil sands monitoring program includes a component of what we call the extended geographic area, the EGA. That area is actually quite far north. It includes Wood Buffalo National Park and actually beyond it, as far as Great Slave Lake.

I would encourage members, if you're interested in knowing more about where we're doing monitoring, to please visit the website. I'm plugging it because I designed it. It is at jointoilsandsmonitoring.ca. It will show you all the information about how we're doing the monitoring, including the geographic area. There's an interactive map that we're actually quite proud of. It will show you not only where we're doing the monitoring but also what types of monitoring we're doing at individual sites. All of the data we have produced is available on that website.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Choquette.

Mrs. Ambler, go ahead please.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all of our witnesses for being here today and for talking to us about this important report.

The focus of my questions will be on the Great Lakes area, as my picturesque riding of Mississauga South is situated on Lake Ontario.

My first question is with regard to the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health. My understanding, from page 20 of the report, is that this agreement came about in order to meet the commitments made in the 2012 Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

This report, which is about a year old I think, mentions that the Canada-Ontario agreement was expected to be finalized and posted for public comment by 2014-15. I'm wondering if that's happened and if the implementation has begun in any way. I know it covers a broad range of issues. I was wondering whether you could tell us what the issues are in terms of restoring and protecting water quality in the Great Lakes.

My question is for Mr. Goetze.

9:45 a.m.

Executive Director, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, Department of the Environment

Darren Goetze

Yes, I'm pleased to confirm that the Canada-Ontario agreement is in place now. It is an integral part of meeting the Canadian commitments under the Canada-U.S. agreement, which was renewed in 2012.

As a general comment, it's important context, I think, to understand that federal governments on both sides of the border, and provinces and states have worked very hard on the environment, particularly on the water environment of the Great Lakes, over the past 40 years. I think we can say unambiguously that water quality has improved—I personally would say dramatically improved—in that period. There are, however, emerging risks across the Great Lakes on things that we continue to need to pay careful attention to.

You may recall from the past year that there were problems with algae blooms in Lake Erie. Toledo was quite impacted by those. They had to shut their municipal water system. We are working very hard with our partners in Ontario and on the U.S. side of the border to address those things. We're looking at nutrients in the Great Lakes. We are gathering the data and creating models so that we can set targets and understand how those targets will improve water quality for citizens on both sides of the border.

We're also looking at a range of what we would call “legacy” contaminants in the Great Lakes. These are things that were chemicals in the past. There's a large range of these types of chemicals. PCBs, I guess, are among the more famous ones. We've monitored PCBs in the Great Lakes since the late 1970s. We continue to keep tabs on those legacy chemicals as well. We are, with our partners in the U.S., looking at new and emerging chemicals that require our attention.

So there's a comprehensive effort on water quality across the Great Lakes. This is an ongoing and intensive effort involving all the partners around the Great Lakes.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you very much.

You were talking about emerging risks and legacy contaminants. Would you say that in urban areas the water quality is often affected by high levels of development? In Mississauga, for example, my understanding is that one of the reasons for the need to dredge and to clean the water by the shoreline is that for years the Credit River has been taking the silt and other waste products from the constant building and the residential areas. Those end up being deposited in places where wildlife and fish habitat are affected.

Would this be one of the top concerns for water quality management?

9:50 a.m.

Executive Director, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, Department of the Environment

Darren Goetze

Obviously, with population intensity on both sides of the Great Lakes, ringing the Great Lakes, particularly Lakes Huron and Ontario and Erie in our case, all aspects of development—from building close to rivers, to power development, to wastewater treatment plants and effluent of all kinds, including from cottage country in Lake Simcoe, for example—all such activities will have an impact on water quality. The best way to approach these is to understand what the impacts of developments will be before we get the development under way.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you, Mrs. Ambler.

Madame Morin.

May 12th, 2015 / 9:50 a.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Good morning. Thank you for being here.

One of the issues I'm quite interested in is the St. Lawrence action plan. Mr. Moffet, you mentioned that there were great risks of altering the quality of the water in the St. Lawrence because of human activity.

In my riding, the Montreal airport's activities are of particular concern to us. A small stream runs from the Montreal airport and flows into the St. Lawrence River. Unfortunately, there are fairly huge quantities of ethylene glycol in the stream, which does not freeze in the winter. It's quite worrying. All of this ends up in the St. Lawrence River near Lake Saint-Louis, which has plant life and an ecosystem that are fairly diverse. The St. Lawrence action plan is responsible for monitoring all this.

I would like to know what can be done. What is your department doing with situations like this one? I have tried to navigate through all of this for three years to see what I could do for my community. Several people have submitted petitions. Many people are concerned about this stream. What exactly do you do in cases like this one? I have had discussions with the representatives of the Montreal airport. They have a recovery system for ethylene glycol. It's going well. But this substance is still in the St. Lawrence River.

So what can be done?

9:50 a.m.

Executive Director, Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance, Department of the Environment

Darren Goetze

As you mentioned, the responsibility for de-icing fluids like those being used at the airport in Montreal, in fact, rests with Transport Canada. It is the authority that regulates all airport activities, including de-icing and the recovery of de-icing fluids.

I'm not aware of data indicating particularly high levels of de-icing fluid in the river, but certainly we could go back and have a look to see what the data actually indicates.

It is one of the things that we would turn to our colleagues at Transport Canada for, to alert us that they have a problem with their de-icing collection and recovery system. Again, we would have to look at the data specifically.