4.1  Assessment of changes in benthic invertebrate communities of the oil sands region

Anil Gupta, AEMERA and Bruce Kilgour, Hatfield Consultants/Kilgour and Associates Ltd.



The Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Plan (JOSMP) continued the monitoring of benthic invertebrates communities that commenced under the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) in 1998. The JOSMP has involved the collection of benthos from the lower reaches of major tributaries; areas anticipated to be the most likely to respond to the influences of land cover change associated with oil sands land preparation. Benthos are also collected from lake environments. The study design has produced baseline data collected before oil sands operations in reaches that will be potentially influenced in the future, and upstream baseline reaches that are used as local and regional ‘controls’, informing us of the normal natural variations in benthic community composition. Sampling designs have been statistically intensive, and are able to detect subtle variations in benthos composition. The program has documented the effects of oil sands operations on tributaries such as the Lower Tar River, including recovery of communities after mitigations have been installed. The data set is now large, and the data set has allowed for the development of novel approaches to the quantification of normal ranges of variation of measures of community health. Benthic communities in most tributary rivers contain diverse assemblages of sensitive organisms typical  of the habitats being monitored.


Dr. Kilgour is an aquatic ecologist. He completed his undergraduate training at Guelph, and his PhD at Waterloo. Through positions with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and later in the consulting industry, he developed expertise in environmental monitoring study design and statistics. He is now based in Ottawa, where he is self-employed. He works across the country with pulp mills, mines, land development companies, and government agencies in the design and delivery of monitoring programs. Dr. Kilgour has been working with Hatfield Consultants in the delivery of oil sands related monitoring for over 10 years. His presentation will summarize the approach and major findings associated with the monitoring of freshwater benthic communities in the oil sands region.