Air Quality and the Oil Sands

Air Quality Facts

  • Since 1995, monitoring in the oil sands region indicates four, carbon monoxide, ozone, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and sulphur dioxide, out of the five key air quality pollutants used to calculate the Air Quality Index shows improved or no change in long term air quality. Nitrogen dioxide demonstrated the only increase trend.
  • Since 1995, air monitoring has shown increases in exceedances of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in the Fort McMurray area and near oil sands upgraders.
  • Alberta Environment has issued Environmental Protection Orders to address unacceptable levels of H2S emissions at oil sands site near Fort McMurray.

Measuring Alberta's Air Quality

Several pollutants are monitored in Alberta's outdoor air quality monitoring network including:

Ammonia Carbon dioxide
Carbon monoxide Hydrocarbons
Hydrogen sulphide and total reduced sulphur Oxides of nitrogen
Ozone Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)
Polycyclic acromatic hydrocarbons Sulphur dioxide

The number of monitoring stations, frequency, nature and duration of monitoring depend on the substances monitored and their emission rates. To summarize Alberta's air quality, Alberta uses an Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI is a system developed to provide the public with a description of outdoor air quality.

The index converts hourly readings of five major air pollutants - carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and sulphur dioxide - to a single value. A rating of 0-25 is Good, 26-50 is Fair, 51-100 is Poor and greater than 100 is Very Poor. An air monitoring station must monitor four out of the five major air pollutants to produce an AQI. Twenty-two stations, including five stations in the oil sands region, collect the required combination of pollutant data necessary for the calculation of the AQI.

Monitoring Air Quality in the Oil Sands Region

The Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) monitors the air in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is done through a variety of air, land and human monitoring programs. The information collected is openly shared with stakeholders and the public.

The five WBEA ambient air monitoring stations that have the technology to measure and monitor air emissions and calculate an AQI are:

AQI summary reports for the WBEA Air Monitoring Stations are available on the Clean Air Strategic Alliance Data Warehouse.

Monitoring Station Map


Source: The Wood Buffalo Environmental Association

Monitoring Hydrogen Sulfide

Alberta monitors ground level concentrations of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and other odorous sulphur compounds to ensure they remain within acceptable levels. Since 1995, air monitoring has shown increases in exceedances of H2S in the Fort McMurray area and near oil sands upgraders. Environmental Protection Orders are issued under the authority of Alberta?s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Alberta Environment issues Environmental Protection Orders to remedy environmental problems where there has been a release of a substance, including H2S, which has caused, or may cause, an adverse effect on the environment.

Industry Air Emissions

All industrial facilities, including oil sands facilities, must be designed so air emissions meet outdoor air quality objectives. Objectives are used to create approval conditions and can be used to assess compliance and evaluate performance.

More Information About Air Quality Management in the Oil Sands

Interim Emission Guidelines for Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) for New Boilers, Heaters and Turbines using Gaseous Fuels for the Oil Sands Region in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo North of Fort McMurray based on a Review of Best Available Technology Economically Achievable (BATEA)

Technologies for Reducing NOx Emissions from Gas-Fired Stationary Sources

Learn more about Air Quality in Alberta